Dictionary of Sydney

The Dictionary of Sydney was archived in 2021.

Austral String Quartet

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Austral String Quartet

Though the existence of a group called the Austral String Quartet was advertised as early as 1908, it did not become regularly active until 1910, when newly reformed under the leadership of violinist Cyril Monk. Its other foundation members were Anton Tschaikov (second violin), S Vost Janssen (viola) and Gladstone Bell (cello). Their inaugural concert, at Sydney's YMCA Hall on 2 June 1910, included the first public Australian performance of Debussy's String Quartet. When Gladstone Bell left the quartet and Sydney to return to London later that year he was replaced as cellist by Carl Gotsch, while early in 1911 Monk's teacher, composer and violinist Alfred Hill, took over as second violin. The quartet continued to perform under Monk's leadership until around 1916, after which it was effectively succeeded as the leading Sydney string chamber ensemble by Henri Verbrugghen's quartet. Among its noted Sydney predecessors were the Zerbini Quartet and F Mowat Carter's Sydney String Quartet.

In all, the Australs presented seven annual series of their own concerts. Typically, they were mixed programs, in which quartet members were joined by other singers and instrumentalists in a variety of chamber repertoire also including duo, trios and quintets. The quartet itself gave many Australian first performances, notably of quartets by the French composers Franck, Chausson, and Ravel. Australian compositions also formed a prominent part of their programs. At a concert in Sydney on 11 July 1911, the quartet performed two movements from the Seasons Quartet by composer and Sydney City Organist, Ernest Truman, as well as a quartet and songs by Hill. The other members of the group were especially proud to be associated with Hill's music. His Māori Quartets were composed for them in 1911, works they also premiered.

The Austral String Quartet party, headed by Mr Cyril Monk, of Sydney, have brought forward several works of chamber programme music by Alfred Hill. Among the works of this class written by this composer there are two Māori String quartets descriptive of Māori legends, which legends, by the way, are full of poetic beauty. [1]

The quartet's last appearance in Sydney took place in December 1916, when the Sydney Morning Herald reported 'a cordial rally of their supporters' at the Conservatorium, and inspired Verbrugghen, performing at the same concert, to express his regret at the quartet's disbandment and 'the thanks of the musical community'. [2]

A second ensemble bearing the same name was established in Sydney in the late 1950s, and continued the original quartet's advocacy of the work of Australian composers into the 1960s and 1970s.


Diane Collins, Sounds from the Stables: the story of Sydney's Conservatorium, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2001

Unpublished research by Dr Kathleen Nelson, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, presented at the 12th Glebe Music Festival 2001

'The Austral String Quartet', Sydney Morning Herald, 23 April 1910, p 15, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15133505

'The Austral String Quartet', Sydney Morning Herald, 13 June 1913, p 10, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15427299

'The Austral String Quartet', Sydney Morning Herald, 16 December 1916, p 14, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15702701


[1] S Vost-Janssen, 'The Future of Chamber Music', The Musical Times vol 54 no 846, August 1913, pp 526–27

[2] Sydney Morning Herald, 16 December 1916, p 14