Dictionary of Sydney

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Monk, Cyril

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Monk, Cyril

Violinist Cyril Monk was only 12 years old when he won a gold medal at the 1894 Sydney Eisteddfod. A decade later, after a successful benefit concert, he departed for Europe for two years of further study in England, France and Germany. Back in Sydney, in 1909 he founded the Austral String Quartet, in which one of his former teachers, Alfred Hill, also sometimes played. Monk served on the staff of the new Sydney Conservatorium from 1915, and was concertmaster of the Conservatorium-based New South Wales State Orchestra under Henri Verbrugghen. In 1913 he married the pianist and composer Varney Desmond. After they settled in Mosman, Hill and Horace Keats were close neighbours, and they all regularly hosted informal Sunday morning chamber concerts in their homes.

He and his collaborators were responsible for the first performances in Australia of the chamber music of Franck namely the Violin Sonata (with Godfrey Smith) and sonatas of Milhaud, Lazzari, Ropartz, Elgar, both John Ireland sonatas, and those of Alfred Hill and Arthur Benjamin. Also included were trios by Ravel and Ireland and the now well known Ravel and Debussy quartets. [1]

Monk was specially known for his advocacy of modern European music and Australian compositions. As a soloist and chamber musician, he gave many first Australian performances, often under the aegis of the Sydney branch of the British Music Society, of which he was an active member from its foundation in 1920. He performed in public more rarely after 1930, but remained professionally active as a teacher and as an examiner for the Australian Music Examinations Board. As a composer and arranger, he published many educational pieces for the violin, including a set of Fantasias on National Airs (1932). He was a president of the Musical Association of New South Wales, and continued teaching at the Sydney Conservatorium until his retirement in 1955.


Helen Bainton, 'Monk, Cyril Farnsworth (1882–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol 10, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1986, pp 555–56, available online at http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/monk-cyril-farnsworth-7625/text13327, viewed 1 August 2011

John Thomson, 'It's Australian – and it's good!: The Australian Musical Collits' Inn', National Library of Australia News, vol 14 no 3, December 2003, pp 7–10


[1] The Australian Musical News, July 1922