Una Bourne (1897 - 1927)
Una had the reputation of being not only a child but an infant prodigy. Apparently when Una’s mother sang nursery rhymes and lullabies to her, the baby Una responded by singing back those lullabies with variations and embellishments. Her family thought this showed tremendous prodigiousness and foretold of great talent. Una’s early piano training came from her eldest sister Margaret, who used to place the infant in a high chair at the end of the piano and would write down the improvisations that the four-year-old Una created on the piano.
In 1905 Una Bourne began an 18-month study tour where she visited Leipzig, Dresden, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Paris and London. During this time, she had lessons with Paderewski and Godowski. She had not intended to perform publicly, but before she returned home, friends arranged several recitals in the Bechstein Hall, London, which were acclaimed by English critics. Una was also asked to perform with an Australian violinist at a debut performance in the Wigmore Hall. Back in Australia she worked as the solo performer on Dame Nellie Melba’s tours throughout the country. Mostly there was another accompanist who played with Melba, but Bourne was the solo performer who filled in between song brackets and toured in the special train Melba used. Bourne also filled in as accompanist when the regular accompanist was indisposed, performing in “an excellent and accomplished fashion.”
In America she recorded for the company Duo-Art Recordings and was chosen to perform one of the Beethoven sonatas for a special recording. As a recording artist for Duo–Art and for His Masters Voice she recorded over eighty titles, including many works by Chaminade as well as several duets with the violinist Margaret Hayward. Her own compositions: Caprice, Petite Caprice Valse, A Little Song, Cradle Song, Humoresque, Gavotte, Marche Grotesque and Nocturne were also made into recordings. Unfortunately, most of her forty-four recordings were deleted from the HMV catalogue by 1930 and no long-playing reissues of her discs have been made.
Bourne returned permanently to Australia in 1939 and during the Second World War resided in Melbourne where she continued to give recital performances and broadcasts, often playing at mental hospitals and homes for returned servicemen where she provided support with her playing as a form of musical therapy. She taught at the Melbourne Conservatorium (formerly known as the Albert Street Conservatorium), developing an intensive course for pianists and later established a piano scholarship in her name.[She was one of the only women to be on the advisory committee of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.
After the war Bourne continued to teach privately and lived in South Yarra until her death in 1974. She never married and the worth of her estate at her death was impressive. It can be said that Una Bourne was one of the few people who can claim prodigiousness in infancy. She was one of the world’s greatest exponents of Mozart during her lifetime and had musical success and a brilliant career as a concert pianist.
(Extracts taken from biographical notes by Jeanell Carrigan. See The Composers’ Series)