100 years ago TODAY Miriam Hyde was born. Her mother, a concert pianist, lulled her baby to sleep with the concertos she was practicing. As Miriam grew up games were made of guessing the pitch of porridge bowls and train whistles; it seems a career in music was predestined. The prodigiously talented teenager completed her Bachelor of Music at the Elder Conservatorium by the age of eighteen and was awarded a scholarship to the Royal College of Music.
Miriam was part of the first generation of women composers I researched for my book Women of Note. Growing up in the early 20th century it was unusual to have career ambitions.
‘When I won my scholarship I had my first experience of journalists,” Hyde said in a Film Australia documentary on her life. “… the heading was “Marriage and Babies No No No says Miriam Hyde”.’
Miriam had great success in London (she performed her own piano concertos with the London Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra) but it wasn’t so easy to freelance back in Australia. Allans publishing encouraged to change her name to Hydekovsky – it was considered amateurish to be female without a foreign name.
In 1938 Miriam surprised herself and married Marcus Edwards, with her good friend Dulcie Holland playing the organ at the ceremony.
‘I had always extinguished any attraction,’ she said in her autobiography Complete Accord. ‘My first duty was to deliver the musical grade.’ But she couldn’t resist their chemistry ‘and the mutual interest in music. We seemed to have a very compatible temperament.’
Generally Miriam found marriage and motherhood complementary to composing. ‘I was able to keep a few pupils because Marcus was always so supportive. I still wrote some small works.’ Large works, however, were out of the question, due to domestic claims that ‘tend to wear down that long musical vision until confidence even to embark on a big work has waned.’
Most of her output is for piano but she also produced a large number of songs, a range of instrumental and chamber music and a surprisingly large number of orchestral works.
The titles of Miriam’s music (Spring, Reflected Reeds, The Quiet Meadow, Dryad’s Dance) show a debt to Ravel and Debussy but her English pastoral style is also strongly influenced by Rachmaninov, who made a lasting impression when she saw him perform in London.
Her most outstanding works are the result of deeply felt experiences. The highly regarded slow movement of her Piano Concerto No. 1 she wrote while convalescing from a nervous breakdown during her London student years, and her G Minor Piano Sonata was written as an outpouring of emotion during the war years when Marcus was a prisoner of war.
Miriam’s best-known works were written for the Australian Music Examinations Board. Here is a student performing Spring.
Sadly anything that was large-scale or difficult (ie not for student mass consumption) was often refused publication. Recording was even rarer. Miriam’s success in getting her Piano Concerto recorded in 1996 by the WA Symphony Orchestra only highlighted the vast number of works that were lying unheard. Thus disappointment she voiced in the poem I quoted at the start which poignantly questions why it should be so hard ‘to give one quaver its due point in time.’
In 1980 Miriam was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire but the recognition was marred by sadness; it coincided with Marcus separating from her and their (now adult) children and moving to Switzerland to care for an ailing female friend.
His departure devastated Miriam. ‘I wondered if life was worth living, I could’ve become suicidal. [My daughter] Christine tried to make me believe I still had a lot to do musically. And I carried on. After that I gave a fairly major recital and I was determined that I would go on doing so.’
Marcus returned five years later and Miriam welcomed him back, no questions asked. She relates in her autobiography that with the harmony restored to her marriage her life returned to the ‘complete accord’ she had enjoyed previously.
In 1991 Miriam was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) In 2004, a year before her death, she was named Woman of the Year by the American Biographical Institute and received an Australasian Performing Right Association award for Distinguished Services to Australian Music.
Miriam Hyde was not perhaps revolutionary but she was female, Australian, and prolific. Her success in balancing domesticity and career was groundbreaking and she produced music that was an authentic and skilled expression of her experience as a woman and as an Australian. Happy 100th birthday to a remarkable woman!