Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Nancy Evelyn Salas (1910–1990)

by Kathryn Selby

This article was published:

Nancy Evelyn Salas (1910-1990), pianist, harpsichordist and music teacher, was born on 28 July 1910 at Coolgardie, Western Australia, eldest of four surviving children of Perth-born Godfrey Dowling Salas, railway clerk, and his South Australian-born wife Annie, née Maguire. Her father was of Hungarian descent. Nancy learned piano from Adela Harris at Kalgoorlie, gaining her LTCL in 1929. In 1934 Nancy moved to Sydney, where from 1938 she studied with Alexander Sverjensky at the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music. After teaching at the McMahon School of Music she opened the Nancy Salas Pianoforte Studio. As a member of the Elizabethan Players in the early 1950s she played the harpsichord. She also performed with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under (Sir) Eugene Goossens and for the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

In 1955 Salas was appointed to the staff of the conservatorium, initially teaching piano but later harpsichord as well. That year she founded the Bartók Society of Australia. She travelled to Hungary in 1963 to study Béla Bartók’s archives and to consult his widow, Ditta Pásztory. In the 1970s Salas began the Bartók Youth Festival. Her efforts contributed to having his works included in the Australian Music Examinations Board and conservatorium syllabuses. In 1981 the Hungarian government gave her a diploma and medallion for her services in promoting Bartók’s music.

Salas was a State councillor (1968-74) of the Australian Society for Music Education and was appointed to the State AMEB advisory board in 1973. A co-founder and musical director of the Music Students’ Overseas Study Foundation in 1972, she established the Early Music Association of New South Wales in 1977. She undertook research in baroque music with Gustav Leonhardt at Amsterdam and with Ralph Kirkpatrick at Yale University, United States of America. Also interested in Karlheinz Stockhausen’s music, she had her students perform his solo piano works in Sydney and Melbourne in 1973. The same year she organised a seven-hour Mozart concert which was held in both cities. In 1976 she and her youngest pupil, Kathryn Selby, participated in the performance of ‘The Year of The Child’, at the United Nations General Assembly, New York.

The West German government presented Salas with a Beethoven commemorative medallion in 1970. In 1977 she was appointed MBE and awarded the Queen’s jubilee medal. A small, enthusiastic woman, she considered teaching ‘her children’ the greatest achievement of her life. When the concentration of her very young pupils wavered she would play with them and her much loved cats. To her delight, she was called the enfant terrible of piano pedagogy. Her pupils, however, saw her as a maternal and caring figure. She retired from the conservatorium in 1980. Her publications included Bartok, A Selection of the Piano Music: A Handbook for Teachers and Students (1981). On 9 January 1942 at the registrar general’s office, Sydney, she had married 21-year-old Halford Leonard Emerson Oldershaw, a musician. Divorced in 1955, she married Victor Leonard Coleman, a 30-year-old salesman, on 20 December 1956 at the registrar general’s office, Sydney. They divorced in 1971. She died childless on 18 December 1990 in her home at Mosman, Sydney, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • International Who’s Who in Music and Musicians’ Directory, 10th edn (1985)
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 16 Aug 1973, p 21
  • 2MBS-FM Stereo FM Radio: Programme Guide, Sept 1990, p 5
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Dec 1990, p 14, 16 Dec 1991, p 10
  • Nancy Salas (film, 1982, National Film and Sound Archive)
  • Salas papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Kathryn Selby, 'Salas, Nancy Evelyn (1910–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024