Esther Rofe


Esther Rofe (1904 - 2000)

Esther Freda Rofe was born in Camberwell, Melbourne, on 4th March, 1904. As a child the family activities centred around books, music, going to the theatre and the sea or at least a river, all of which were activities that she later incorporated into her music. She was precociously gifted as a child firstly playing piano at age four and then violin a year later. Her early musical training began with private violin lessons in Adelaide from age five with Professor Eugene Alderman and piano lessons from age four with Miss Grace Price in Melbourne, the young Esther passing her fifth-grade exams in 1910. Later teachers included Ada Freeman and Harold Smith (piano) and Alberto Zelman (violin) after she turned fourteen.

Also like many of her contemporaries Rofe studied composition and orchestration with Fritz Hart and A. E. Floyd. She had started writing music at about age seven, her first composition was written about a storm, though there was not much opportunity to study composition in Melbourne at that time for a child. Her teacher, Harold Smith, helped her with harmony and counterpoint and her mentor Alberto Zelman gave invaluable advice about orchestration and arranging. From approximately aged nineteen Rofe took private theory lessons from Dr A. E. Floyd organist and choirmaster at St Paul's Cathedral. Her early compositions are relatively undeveloped, but they laid the basis for what was to come. Important for her development as a composer was that her parents took her to see dramatic works - pantomimes, ballets, and musical comedies - which became a fundamental influence on both the type and style of works she later composed. That keen sense of the dramatic which became her compositional trademark can be traced back to her childhood.Consequently she developed a love of theatre and it took hold of her imagination.

By all accounts Esther Rofe was a “character,” a “battler”. A prodigiously talented child she showed determination and resolve in all that she undertook. Rofe considered herself a narrative composer - "I have to write a story or have a story to inspire me to write. I used to read adventure stories as a child. Our parents would allow us free rein with what we had to read."  “I look at myself as a narrative composer not an abstract composer. I can write abstract music but it doesn't attract me very much".She was inspired by the fact that her father had about two thousand books and she always was an avid reader.

(Extracts taken from biographical notes by Jeanell Carrigan.  See The Composers’ Series)


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