Dictionary of Sydney

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Truman, Ernest

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Truman, Ernest

Born in England in 1869, Ernest Truman arrived in Sydney with his parents in 1885 at the age of 15, after living for some years in Melbourne and Dunedin, New Zealand. His first documented public appearance was as organist at a concert of sacred music at St Matthias's Anglican church, Paddington, in October 1886, conducted by his father, EP Truman, a talented amateur musician and financier. On this occasion, young Truman played the slow movement of Beethoven's Second Symphony as an organ solo. After taking piano lessons in Sydney with Julius Buddee, in 1888 he went to Europe and entered the Royal Conservatory in Leipzig, Germany, where Alfred Hill was a fellow student. While there, compositions by Truman were performed by the famous Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. He returned to Sydney in 1893.

Among Truman's compositions was a Mass in D minor, premiered in 1899 at St Mary's Cathedral, a 'cantata grotesque' called The Pied Piper of Hamelin, based on Robert Browning's poem, a comic operetta Club Life written in collaboration with the Sydney poet and journalist AB 'Banjo' Paterson in 1895, and a string quartet, The Seasons, two movements from which were performed by the Austral String Quartet in 1912. Many original songs and arrangements by Truman were also issued by local music publishers.

Truman is best remembered today, however, for the estimated 3,000 public recitals he gave in Sydney Town Hall and elsewhere during his 26-year term, from 1909 to 1935, as Sydney City Organist. During this time he also accompanied many touring singers, including Nellie Melba, Peter Dawson, and Clara Butt.

Describing another noted Sydney organist and composer, John Delany, as 'a much-liked man, not only for his musical ability, but because of his dry sense of humour', Australia's first music historian, Arundel Orchard, noted: 'The same can be said of Ernest Truman, later to become Town Hall Organist'.


WA Orchard, The Distant View, Currawong Publishing Co, Sydney, 1943, p 21

GD Rushworth, Historic Organs of New South Wales, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1988

GD Rushworth, 'Truman, Ernest Edwin Philip (1869–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol 12, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1990, pp 266–67, available online at http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/truman-ernest-edwin-philip-8858/text15549, viewed 1 August 2011