Horace Perkins - Australian Heritage Series
Horace Perkins (1901-1986) was born in Gawler, South Australia on 3 May 1901. During his secondary education at St Peter’s College, Adelaide, he studied piano and developed interests in composition and English literature, which became abiding interests for the rest of his life. Perkins did not immediately pursue tertiary music studies, but went into full-time employment. For five years he worked in rural South Australia, New South Wales and the Winton district of Queensland as a shearer and wool classer.
Between 1923 and 1927, Perkins studied music at the Elder Conservatorium in Adelaide and obtained his Bachelor of Music degree in 1927. During the 1930s he was Music Master at Scotch College, Adelaide, but also composed orchestral works, including his Chantyman Suite which was awarded a major prize in an ABC composition competition in 1933, and began compiling a folio of compositions towards his Doctor of Music thesis at the University of Adelaide. The major work of this period, and the major part of his Doctoral folio was the symphonic cantata Kubla Khan. This work was completed during Perkins’ first year of war service while he was hospitalized, and examined in England by Sir Percy Buck and Gordon Jacob. Perkins finally was awarded his doctorate in 1943.
In 1940 Perkins enlisted in the 2/10th Battalion of the 2nd A.I.F., serving first as a private in the Middle East, then as intelligence sergeant in New Guinea. He subtracted several years from his age at enlistment (four years to be precise according to the online service roll of the Australian War Memorial). He also kept quiet about his musical achievements ‘for fear of a bugle sentence’. However, the truth emerged on the troop ship ‘Nevassa’ on the way home from the Middle East during February/March 1942.
Besides revisions of Kubla Khan (premiered in Adelaide by baritone Peter Dawson in 1951), Perkins composed three symphonies, concertos for piano (1947) and violin (1955), further cantatas for chorus and orchestra, symphonic poems, chamber music, piano pieces and songs. Owing to his close professional relationship to the South Australian Symphony Orchestra (S.A.S.O.) and its conductor Henry Krips, Perkins secured many performances of his works in Adelaide. Following his retirement in 1966, his works were rarely heard. His interest in composition was largely supplanted by his hobby of growing cacti and succulents. Fortunately for Perkins, the bulk of his output is preserved in the Barr Smith Library, Special Collections within the University of Adelaide, in the form of music manuscripts, papers and an invaluable set of cassette tapes made from ABC recordings.
Extract from “A musical response to Buna, December 1942 - Horace Perkins’ Elegiac Symphony (1952).
Dr Rhoderick McNeill, Department of Music, Faculty of Arts, University of Southern Queensland, August 2005
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