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Horace George Martin Weber (1887–1968)

by Joyce Gibberd

This article was published:

Horace George Martin Weber (1887?-1968), organist, was born probably on 9 May 1887 at Parkside, Adelaide, fourth of eight children of Albert George Conrad Weber, music teacher and piano mechanic, and his wife Sophie Lydia, née Peryman, singer. Horace was educated at St Cyprian's Day School and Pulteney Street School. Encouraged by his parents and taught by his father, he learned the piano and organ. He was a chorister at St Peter's Cathedral (1898-1903) and assistant organist (1899). In 1905-06 he studied piano at the Elder Conservatorium.

Appointed in 1909 organist and choirmaster at St John's Cathedral, Napier, New Zealand, on 3 April 1911 Weber married Adelaide-born Annie May Shakeshaft at St Thomas's Anglican Church, Wellington. Returning to Australia, he was organist at the North Adelaide Baptist Church in 1913-17. Now recognized as a leading concert organist, he gave many recitals in churches and at the Adelaide Town Hall. In 1919 he was given a three-year contract at the Grand Theatre, Adelaide, playing the newly installed Wurlitzer Duplex for silent films.

Weber played the organ in many theatres in New South Wales, Western Australia and Victoria—his last engagement was at Melbourne's Regent and Plaza theatres in 1948-49—but his years (1924-29, 1933-34 and 1938-44) at Australia's first full-scale 3m/15r Wurlitzer at the new Capitol Theatre, Melbourne, were the highlight of his career. The opening night (8 November 1924) featured the film, The Ten Commandments, a large orchestra and Weber as 'master organist'. In 1963 when the Capitol closed its organ, he was principal recitalist, his performance still brilliant and whimsical. The Dendy Theatre, Brighton, bought the organ and in 1967 Weber re-opened it. His repertoire was always varied, from classical (Bach, Reger, Widor) to hymns, hit parade songs and his signature tune, Look for the Silver Lining. As a teacher of classical and theatre organ, he excelled.

In the late 1920s 'talkies' had reduced the importance of theatre organists who subsequently only provided entertainment before and between films. Intermittent and enforced idleness was probably a contributing factor to Weber becoming alcohol-dependent and unemployed. In private life he experienced tragedies. His wife had died in childbirth in 1921, leaving him with three small children, one of whom died in 1923. On 17 October 1927 at St Mark's Anglican Church, Fitzroy, he married Welsh-born Gladys May Sylvester; they had three children, of whom one died in 1928. Weber and his wife separated in 1946. 'Down and out', he lived at Gordon House (a refuge for homeless men) in Bourke Street, Melbourne. In 1949 Rev. Wesley Bligh of the Armadale Baptist Church befriended Weber and encouraged him to become his organist and choirmaster. Respected by the congregation and choristers, and applauded for his recitals and broadcasts, he at last enjoyed years of peace.

A tall, erect, courteous and private man, with twinkling blue eyes and 'elf-like humour', Weber 'brought the skill of the classical organist into the world of popular entertainment'. Predeceased by his wife, and survived by the two sons of his first marriage and by a son and daughter of his second, he died on 4 October 1968 at Fitzroy and was cremated. In 1987 the Theatre Organ Society of Australia (Victorian Division) held the Horace Weber Centenary Celebration Concerts to honour its former patron.

Select Bibliography

  • Theatre Organ, Spring 1964
  • Age (Melbourne), 5 Oct 1968
  • R. Brown, Funeral Oration (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

Joyce Gibberd, 'Weber, Horace George Martin (1887–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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