Dictionary of Sydney

The Dictionary of Sydney was archived in 2021.

Lemmone, John

CC BY-SA 2.0
Cite this

Lemmone, John

John Lemmone (pronounced and sometimes spelt 'Lemmoné') arrived in Sydney in his late twenties, a fully-fledged professional musician, and settled in Darlinghurst, where he lived for the rest of his life. John Lemon, as he was born, was the son of a Greek immigrant gold miner (the family name was originally Lamoni).

Largely self-taught on the tin whistle and fife, Lemmone was 12 when he bought his first flute with gold he'd panned himself on the Ballarat goldfields. In his teens he began playing in Melbourne theatre orchestras, and having changed his name to Lemmone, toured Australia with Amy Sherwin in 1887–89.

A performer and presenter

Lemmone spent the mid-1890s in Europe, appearing in concert again with Nellie Melba (they first appeared together in Melbourne in 1884, their joint debut concert), Adelina Patti, and Paderewski.

Already by 1897, he had diversified his activities away from merely performing to concert presenting. That year, The Sydney Morning Herald reported:

Mr John Lemmone arrived in Sydney yesterday after an absence of more than three years, during which time this Australian artist has won a recognised position as the foremost flautist of the day in London … he now expects to remain in Australia … in order to bring out world famous artists, contracts with some of whom are already signed.

As a concert promoter, he managed Melba's 1902 Australian tour, and in 1904 that of his friend, the Polish pianist Ignaz Paderewski. Paderewksi created an outrage in Sydney by walking out during one of his performances, at least according to an incendiary report in the Melbourne daily, The Age, on 3 August 1904:

Mr Paderewski gave his second recital at the Sydney Town Hall yesterday evening in the presence of another large audience. Although the programme was greatly enjoyed, the artist himself at the close left the platform in a towering rage. During the performance some non-musical members of the audience drifted out of the hall as soon as their curiosity was satisfied. A stirring ovation at the end of the evening, though leading to the addition of two more pieces, found the artist playing to a rapidly diminishing audience. Mr. Paderewski played, as he stated later, with genuine pleasure to those whose appreciation had led them to remain; but he resented keenly and in the strongest terms the want of honor shown to a visiting artist by something like 500 people in hurrying away at such juncture.

'They are nothing but savages,' said the irate artist. 'In Melbourne no one went out, and I played a longer programme. I have never had an audience behave like that – even in the Wild West.'

Lemmone and Dame Nellie Melba

As Melba's flautist, Lemmone's most famous repertoire items were the two famous soprano arias with flute obligato, Lo Here the Gentle Lark by Henry Bishop (husband of opera singer Anna Bishop) and Sweet Bird by Handel. In 1911 he played the flute solo in the Sydney first performance of Frederick Septimus Kelly's Serenade for flute, horn, harp and strings. The Sydney Morning Herald noted then that his 'mellowness of tone and fine phrasing would be hard to rival'.

The diva sang throughout the evening with a finely-sustained quality and delightful

smoothness and beauty of tone ... Mr John Lemmone, still the marvellous flautist, completely fascinated the vast audience with his playing. He is a great virtuoso – and a great artist. [1]

Lemmone also organised Melba's wartime benefit concerts, both in Australia and Britain, taking no fee: as he explained, 'I may be too old to fight, but I'm not too old to help'. In 1918 The Bulletin described him as Melba's 'devoted chum', and when the singer died in 1931, The Daily Telegraph reported on 24 February that

The faithful John Lemmone, her lifelong friend and counsellor, was with her to the last.

According to Melba's biographer Thérèse Radic, it was widely presumed that the pair were also lovers, though neither ever admitted it.

Lemmone's legacy

The Sydney music publisher WH Paling issued Lemmone's compositions, including 16 titles for flute and piano, and in 1925 the vocal setting Ave Maria, dedicated 'To my friend, Dame Nellie Melba'. Lemmone published his memoirs in 1926 (written in collaboration with EW Garside), and they were reprinted in the American journal The Flutist the following year. [2]

Though Lemmone officially retired in 1927, he served as president of the Sydney Flute Club. He recorded three of his own works with pianist Lindley Evans for Columbia Records in October 1935 ( Fantasy, Valse Bluette, and Danse Romantique). He gave a radio broadcast performance for the ABC as late as 1938.


Mimi Colligan, 'John Lemmone', Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol 10, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1976, p 73

Thérèse Radic, Melba: The Voice of Australia, Macmillan, South Melbourne, 1986

Donald Westlake, Dearest John: The Story of John Lemmone, Flute Virtuoso and Nellie Melba, Bowerbird Press, Terrey Hills NSW, 1997

John Lemmone: The Flute Music, music recording (compact disc), Tall Poppies CD, TP068, Sydney, 1995


[1] The Daily Telegraph, 3 April 1922

[2] Donald Westlake, Dearest John: The Story of John Lemmone, Flute Virtuoso and Nellie Melba, Bowerbird Press, Terrey Hills NSW, 1997