Dictionary of Sydney

The Dictionary of Sydney was archived in 2021.

Bradley, Joseph

CC BY-SA 2.0
Cite this

Bradley, Joseph

Joseph Bradley was born on 28 February 1857 in Hyde, Cheshire, England. In 1890 he applied for the job of Sydney City Organist. He was unsuccessful but almost 20 years later he was appointed conductor of Sydney's Royal Philharmonic Society. He arrived with his wife, Mary, on 23 March 1908 on the Somerset. [1]


Bradley made his debut with the Philharmonic on 11 June 1908 at Sydney Town Hall. The program included Mendelssohn's Lobgesang and Beethoven's Choral Fantasia. [2] More significantly, on 16 September Bradley conducted the Australian premiere of Dvorák's Symphony number nine, From the New World. In 1909 he presented a concert version of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman.

Bradley conducted both the Society and, from the year of his arrival, the first Sydney Symphony Orchestra. It was founded in 1908 by George Plummer [3] and it survived fitfully until it was 'snuffed out by the effects of the First World War in 1914'. [4] In 1937, Charles Moses bought the name for the ABC for the sum of £10.

Bradley graduated with an Oxford Bachelor of Music degree in 1875, and from 1881 he had been the deputy conductor of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester. In 1887 he became the conductor of the Glasgow Choral Union, where his orchestra leader was Henri Verbrugghen. By coincidence, in 1915, it was Verbrugghen who was chosen over Bradley and several other Australian contenders to become the first director of Sydney's new State Conservatorium of Music, despite Bradley having been one of the leading advocates for the establishment of the institution.

Teacher and writer

Bradley and his colleague William Arundel Orchard had first proposed that the new Conservatorium be established within the University of Sydney, but without success. Orchard wrote that Bradley was 'a first rate musician' whose 'musical knowledge was considerably greater than' Verbrugghen's, but that he had 'neither the tact nor the temperament' for the Conservatorium directorship. [5] Bradley was nevertheless one of three conductors who participated in its opening concert, conducting Elgar's First Symphony and he went on to teach music theory and solfege there, happily under Verbrugghen. When Verbrugghen left Sydney and the Conservatorium in September 1923, Bradley commented sadly in The Australian Musical News that Sydney had been 'wiped off the musical map of the world'. [6]

Bradley published several musical textbooks in Sydney; A Textbook on the Theory of Music (1919), A Solfeggio Manual for Teachers (1919) and A Manual of Musical Ornamentation (1924). He began to suffer from failing eyesight but continued to conduct from memory until he resigned from the Philharmonic Society in 1927. Among his last appearances he conducted Beethoven's Missa Solemnis to mark the centenary of the composer's death. He returned to England in 1928 and died on 3 March 1935 in Harrow, London.

According to PF Leighton, and more recently Clare Thornley, Bradley conducted 126 performances during his 20 years in Sydney, including such choral standards as Handel's Messiah (29 times), Mendelssohn's Elijah (five times) and Haydn's Creation (four times), as well as Bach's St Matthew's Passion (first in 1912), Elgar's Caractacus, Franck's Les Béatitudes, a concert version of Saint-Saens's Samson and Delilah, and Berlioz's Grande Messe des Morts and La Damnation de Faust. One of his notable performances with the first Sydney Symphony Orchestra, before its demise in 1914, was at Sydney Town Hall in July 1911 when he conducted the expatriate Sydney-born pianist Frederick Septimus Kelly in Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto. However, the real stars of that concert were the Sheffield Choir from Yorkshire, the first large European choral group to visit Sydney.


William Arundel Orchard, The Distant View, The Currawong Publishing Company, Sydney, 1943

William Arundel Orchard, Music in Australia, Georgian House, Melbourne, 1952

PF Leighton, 'Joseph Bradley', Australian Dictionary of Biography vol 7, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1979, pp 384–85

Diane Collins, Sounds From the Stables, Allen and Unwin, Crows Nest NSW, 2001, p 20

Clare Thornley, 'The Royal Philharmonic Society of Sydney: The Rise and Fall of a Musical Organisation', Master of Music dissertation, University of Sydney, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, 2004



[1] 'Mr. Bradley's Arrival: New Philharmonic Conductor,' Sydney Morning Herald, 24 March 1908

[2] Sydney Morning Herald, 12 June 1908

[3] Phillip Sametz, Play On: 60 years of Music-making with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, ABC Enterprises, Sydney, 1992, p 7

[4] Thérèse Radic, 'Orchestras', in John Whiteoak and Aline Scott–Maxwell (eds), The Currency Companion to music and Dance in Australia, Sydney, 2003, p 484

[5] William Arundel Orchard, The Distant View, The Currawong Publishing Company, Sydney, 1943, p 57

[6] Diane Collins, Sounds From the Stables, Allen and Unwin, Crows Nest NSW, 2001, p 49