Winter 2022: The Legacy of Miriam Hyde
When I relocated to Melbourne, Australia, from the United States in June of 2019, I was immediately struck by the sense of tradition and cultural reverence that was deeply felt and clearly acknowledged by new colleagues, acquaintances, and students. Recurrent themes included the widely held belief that curricula related to music studies were constantly evolving. A dedication to composers from Australia and a commitment to discuss, study, program, and reflect upon their works was one principle that was uniquely intertwined with this ideal. There were often references to composers Miriam Hyde, Percy Grainger, and Carl Vine, and works by all three made frequent appearances in lessons, masterclasses, and performances. I became increasingly struck by the ingenuity and wide-ranging scope of Hyde's works. The intensity of her harmonic language coupled with her innate ability to write for the budding virtuoso pianist led me to dig a bit deeper. As familiarity with her work increased, I came to know a figure who was thoroughly embedded into the musical life of Australia for the better part of three-quarters of a century and whose creative genius remains a lasting inspiration to performers, students, and teachers.
A Lifetime of Creativity and Recognized Achievement
Miriam Hyde (1913–2005) came from a musical family, receiving early instruction and encouragement from her mother. Formal studies occurred at the University of Adelaide's Elder Conservatorium, following which she received an Australian scholarship for study abroad in London. While at the Royal College of Music, both her identity as a concert pianist and voice as a composer developed simultaneously. She returned to Australia three years later and embarked on a career of significant influence and sustained recognition. Eventually settling in Sydney, she criss-crossed the country on concert tours, gave lectures on a variety of pedagogical topics, and adjudicated for student festivals, all the while remaining prolific as a composer. Her compositional output included dozens of piano works, songs, instrumental sonatas for clarinet, viola, and flute, as well as various chamber and orchestral works. Hyde's success in her multiple endeavors, as well as her commitment to arts education, was acknowledged repeatedly by the international community. She received an honorary doctorate from Macquarie University in Sydney, the Office of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), the Office of the Order of Australia (AO), and numerous awards from artistic and musical societies throughout Australia and abroad.
Pedagogical Interests and Associations
The popularity of Hyde's piano works can be intrinsically linked to her long-standing association with the Australian Music Examinations Board (AMEB), an organization that is at the very fundamental core of musical and cultural life in Australia. AMEB exams and syllabi are part of an accepted and widely utilized educational system throughout even the most remote areas of the country. Hyde devoted countless hours to adjudication on behalf of AMEB and her compositions began to appear on the syllabi with increased frequency throughout her lifetime. Peter McCallum, chief music critic for The Sydney Morning Herald, wrote in her January 2005 obituary: "…her name will be irrevocably linked with memories of immobilising terror—those lonely sweaty-palmed moments in cold corridors before playing piano for the Australian Music Examinations Board (AMEB), an organisation for which she has provided more music than almost any other Australian composer."1
Sight Reading Adventures
Sight Reading Adventures far surpasses the immediate impression made by its title. It is a series of graded books that task a certain skill or pattern recognition. Short exercises build upon one another and lead the young pianist towards a strong sense of musical fluency and pianistic adaptability. At the more elementary levels, for instance, several examples might be devoted to the single task of learning to play a dotted-half note in one hand with flowing, even quarters in the other. Additional material devotes itself to concepts such as the recognition of slurs versus ties, imitation of motives between the hands, and alternating articulations. In each instance, Hyde offers succinct advice to the student regarding the apparent goal, which is of equal benefit to the teacher as well. For a more intermediate or early-advanced student who might be struggling for sufficient time in the busy day to build sight-reading skills, the Sight Reading Adventures – Supplement is highly recommended. The Supplement is made up of many short examples centered around preparation for, and exposure to, the tonal world and compositional devices of the late-Romantic period. Chromaticism and unexpected accidentals are plentiful, while the various patterns presented seem focused on developing some of the basic virtuosic skills that are synonymous with that era. Thick chords, leaps, thumb crossings, frequent changing of clefs, and smooth legato hand crossing examples are all among the various prescribed challenges. Hyde's approach to reading is multi-faceted and might be used in parallel approach with the earlier books of Béla Bartók's Mikrokosmos. Both volumes make an exhaustive attempt at attaining skills that will eventually translate into learning an eclectic range of styles.
Graded Piano Series
There is an abundance of Hyde's compositions that can be classified as teaching material, all of which are exclusively published by Wirripang. Following the progression of the Graded Piano Series from the first through fifth books reveals limitless knowledge of piano teaching and a charming creativity. The works are obviously considered with tender sensitivity towards children's themes and Hyde gives titles such as "Friendly Cat" (Preliminary First Grade Children's Suite No. 1), "Flying My Kite" (Preliminary First Grade Children's Suite No. 2), "The Trombone Lesson" (Second Grade Little Sketch Book), and "Drifting Cloud" (Third Grade Pictures Tone). Teachers who regularly assign and program works, such as Seymour Bernstein's Birds or Racoons, Edward MacDowell's Ten Woodland Sketches, and Octávio Pinto's Scenas Infantis, might take great pleasure in adding Hyde's Graded Piano Series to the studio repertoire list. Like Bernstein, the blend of pianist and teacher is constantly apparent in Hyde's works as she carefully strives to offer thoughtful fingerings, articulation markings, and pedal instructions that develop the budding pianist while enhancing the performance. Hyde's use of text painting in many of these works is sophisticated, yet easily grasped by the younger student. One example could include "The Last Raindrops Fall" from the Preliminary First Grade Children's Suite No. 1.
Similarly, in "The Leaves are Falling" from Tone Pictures Graded Piano Series – Third Grade, one can note the effortless dialogue between the two-note slurs in the right and left hands trading wistfully back and forth, as if on a breezy autumn day.
There are humorous examples from these works as well. See the surprising C-flat and E-flat in the left hand at the close of this seemingly predictable phrase gesture in "My Old Teddy," also from the Preliminary First Grade Children's Suite No. 1.
For a student with a more developed facility and the ability to incorporate a bit of velocity, Frost Fairies from Three Impressions Graded Piano Series – Fifth Grade is a delightful work. A teacher who might normally introduce the concepts of fleeting arpeggios and sweeping gesture by assigning Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words, Opus 19, No. 3 could consider "Frost Fairies" as an excellent alternative.
Accomplished Virtuoso Pianist
Hyde followed in the tradition of Mozart, Chopin, and Liszt by paralleling her virtuoso skill as a performing pianist alongside her compositional output. During her formative years of study at the Royal College of Music in London, focus on piano studies was as serious as composition lessons in her education. During that time, she was an avid concertgoer and later cited hearing Rachmaninoff in live concerts as illuminating and highly inspirational. Highlights from her earlier years on the concert stage included debut appearances with the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The latter appearance was also the premiere of her First Piano Concerto in E-Flat Minor.
While the years that ensued after returning to Australia from England were filled with a variety of academic and family obligations, as well as a deepening interest in composition, Hyde remained a formidable pianist. Her dedication to the concert stage never waned. In fact, when arriving at the major milestones of both her eightieth and ninetieth birthdays, she marked those years with celebratory recital tours and broadcasts throughout Australia.
In August of 1991, the 78-year-old Hyde gave an interview on the Australian Broadcast Corporation's popular Sunday Afternoon show with Peter Ross. She spoke with great poise about her career and a particularly pivotal meeting early on with Percy Grainger, who remained arguably Australia's most revered composer at that time. Following the interview, Hyde performed The Fountain, an example of one of her evocative character pieces. The playing was elegant, confident, precise, and without distortion or exaggeration. While Hyde's pianism seemed to illustrate tremendous composure and physical calm, it also sparkled with brilliance and imagination.
Students seeking further insight into the interpretation of Hyde's piano works can consult several of her CDs on the Wirripang label. One such example is the disc titled Valley of Rocks, which contains twelve of her compositions, including the often-played work of the same title, Sonata in G Minor, and the popular Magpies at Sunrise, among many others. Like the live performance on the ABC, this recording again exhibits remarkable pianism, characterized by an exacting and disciplined interpretation, as well as many moments of profound expression.
Hyde's creativity spilled over from music to literature. She was as skilled with the pen as she was at the keyboard. In fact, over the course of her lifetime she wrote more than fifty poems that covered a wide range of themes and topics. Fifteen of them served as texts for her songs and three were published in the Economy Press. Her major published literary work with Currency Press was an autobiography titled Complete Accord. In it she details a fascinating life dedicated to the pursuit of the arts and their higher causes, all written in descriptive and persuasive prose. Further evidence of Hyde's dedicated use of the pen can be found in Papers of Miriam Hyde which are held in the National Library of Australia. The collection organizes a sixty-six-year time span of correspondence, including letters to dozens of professional musicians, as well as communications with noted arts organizations such as the Australian Broadcast Corporation, Australian Music Examinations Board, and Music Teachers National Association in the United States.
Advanced Works for the Concert Stage
While recognized as a composer of beginning and intermediate-level piano music that contains strong pedagogical intent, Hyde also wrote compelling advanced works for the concert stage. Chief among her large-scale works is the three-movement Sonata in G Minor. The piece has many pianistic challenges and requires a strong octave technique, developed control of voicing and texture, as well as an abundance of emotional temperament. Hyde expressed the significant influence of events during World War II in the preface of the score. "The first movement was written in 1941, the year in which my husband, Marcus, was taken prisoner after battles in the Middle East, Greece and finally Crete. He was to spend the remainder of the war in Germany. There was day-to-day anxiety, as communication was sparse and letters were censored."2 Noted Australian pianist Geoffrey Tozer (1954–2009) was a loyal advocate of the work and his stunning live performance commemorating Hyde's ninetieth birthday can be heard on YouTube. He introduces the performance by saying, "it has to be one of the openly expressive, wonderfully emotional pieces I think you can ever imagine being written in Australia."3
Among Hyde's most frequently performed concert works is a short five-minute character piece titled Valley of Rocks. Written in 1975, its popularity is partially tied to the 1988 Sydney International Piano Competition. It has been placed on the required repertoire list and received many performances by contestants during the widely broadcast competition. The work was inspired by a popular tourist destination in North Devon, England that has the same title. Hyde visited the Valley of Rocks with her husband and was struck by the spacious and timeless sensation of the location. Valley of Rocks evolves slowly and creates an ethereal musical image that is wonderfully aligned with its creative origin. In addition to Hyde's own sensational recording of the piece, Australian pianist Kathryn Selby included it on an ABC Classics recording to great critical acclaim.
The work opens with all parts moving in a static motion, requiring the pianist to have an acute physical control of even legato and balance of parts.
As the piece unfolds, there are several bravura climaxes, including this sweeping gesture which utilizes the full extent of the keyboard and incorporates the rhythmic friction of triplets versus eighths.
Valley of Rocks is full of harmonic density and an elastic sense of time unfolding towards clangorous arrival points that embrace the full range of the keyboard. The overall effect draws parallels to Claude Debussy's La cathédrale engloutie and contains similar pianistic challenges.
There is a tempo shift at the final climactic moment when the theme returns in augmentation. This comes as a complete surprise to the listener and reveals the composer's creative ingenuity.
This piece serves as an ideal example of one of Hyde's many effective works for the concert stage in which imagery, personal expression, and a unique harmonic language are all in abundance.
Miriam Hyde was a towering figure in the musical life of Australia for decades. Her ability to balance pedagogical concepts with compositional prowess, while maintaining a pianistic profile alongside literary ambitions is truly astonishing. Her multifaceted legacy will remain an inspiration for audience members, aspiring pianists, and seasoned pedagogues for many years to come.
1. Peter McCallum, "Ninety Years of Music Making," The Sydney Morning Herald, January 21, 2005, www.smh.com.au/national/ninety-years-ofmaking-music-20050121-gdkjao.html.
2. Miriam Hyde, Sonata for Piano in G Minor (Wollongong, Australia: Wirripang Pty Ltd, 2016), Preface: Notes by the composer.
3. Geoffrey Tozer, "Geoffrey Tozer Introduces and Plays Miriam Hyde – Piano Sonata in G Minor (1944)," YouTube video, youtube.com/ watch?v=R7IzLuhUxcI.