1966 The Friends of Music, Jan Sedivka and Musica Viva in Tasmania
‘The three exotic musicians came [to Hobart] and it was potentially the beginning to open Tasmania to the outside world in musical terms. Europe had come to Tasmania.’
These comments refer to the arrival in January 1966 of Jan Sedivka, violinist, his pianist wife Beryl Sedivka, and cellist Sela Trau. They had spent several years at the Brisbane Conservatorium, during which time few concerts were given, and all three musicians suffered a somewhat turbulent time.
Australian composer Larry Sitsky recommended to Rex Hobcroft, the newly-appointed director of the Tasmanian Conservatorium, that these three European treasures should relocate to Hobart. Music in Hobart received them with open arms and shortly afterwards, the Tasmanian Conservatorium Trio was born.
THE CHAMBER MUSIC SCENE
There had been some local activity in chamber music performances prior to this.
In 1934, Percy Grainger had donated £100 to the Hobart Orchestral Association for the ‘furtherance of chamber music in Hobart’.
The Tasmanian String Quartet was formed in 1949, its members having been drawn from the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, namely violinists Lionel Hickey and Frank Ellery, and cellist Winifred Durie (not to be confused with the Sydney violist of the same name). The violist is not known. The quartet made broadcasts for the ABC and from 1954, presented lunch-hour concerts that were organised by the Adult Education Board and held in the Tasmanian Art Gallery. Its repertoire was conservative although the Quartet was not averse to performing European contemporary music, or even presenting first performances of such works.
There were also local unnamed groups from the orchestra that played in the early 1960s – the Hobart String Quartet and the Hobart String Trio. Another quartet also named the Hobart String Quartet performed in the Festival of Tasmania in 1972.
MUSIC FINDS ITS FRIENDS
The Hobart Friends of Music came into existence in 1957. It had been resolved to hold four concerts annually in the Lord Mayor’s courtroom in the Hobart Town Hall but initially, this number of concerts was not realistic. The annual subscription was £1 and in 1958, the first visiting group to be ‘borrowed’ from Musica Viva was the Amadeus Quartet.
At the same time the ABC purchased the rights to broadcast concerts and that added to the coffers of the newly-formed organisation.
The Adult Education Board provided sponsorship for the Amadeus Quartet, and other visiting international chamber groups, ‘through which the State Government channelled help to the arts’.
In a letter to Musica Viva in 1959, Loyal Burley wrote that Hobart had been described by an ABC representative as ‘a town notoriously apathetic to chamber music’. The remark had some justification at the time, for one chamber music concert annually from 1958 to 1961 was usual, and poor attendances at concerts would have hardly inspired an enthusiastic interest in increasing the number of concerts.
This state of affairs continued until 1962–3 when the energy and dedication of The Friends of Music changed that situation. Musica Viva’s involvement with The Friends of Music increased and three or four groups were invited to perform annually in Hobart providing costs could be met and sponsorship assured.
In 1963, Loyal Burley became the Honorary Secretary of The Friends of Music and Sir Bernard Heinze was made patron. Loyal Burley’s devotion to chamber music, her energy, commitment and determination to support the continued presentation of concerts in Tasmania must never be forgotten.
In the 1964–5 season, the Hungarian, Borodin and Prague String Quartets visited Hobart.
In 1966, funds hit rock bottom, however a Swiss milk company donated £100 to fund concerts.
THE EUROPEANS MAKE THEIR MARK
This was the point at which the European trio arrived in Hobart. Shortly after, Jan Sedivka joined The Friends of Music Committee and simultaneously, on Rex Hobcroft’s suggestion, launched his piano trio.
It was a natural evolution that the three musicians should form a piano trio. Sedivka had led a piano trio in London and felt that Hobart was an ideal location for such an ensemble to exploit the absence of any permanent resident chamber group. Such a chamber group was a new concept of music making for Beryl Sedivka who hitherto had been a concert pianist.
Cellist Christian Wojtowicz commented that ‘…the arrival of the Sedivkas and Sela Trau to Tasmania in the mid 1960s enhanced and inspired the local music scene. Collectively the three musicians brought vast experience and knowledge to a relatively isolated part of Australia.’
THREE EXPERIENCED ARTISTS
Jan Sedivka (1917–2009) was born in Czechoslovakia and studied violin with Otakar Ševčik and Jaroslav Kocian. He went to Paris at the end of 1938, in theory to study with Jacques Thibaud at the Ecole Normale de Musique. Thibaud rarely visited the institution and Sediva had few and unsuccessful lessons from Marcel Darrieux.
In March 1939, after the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, Sedivka, classified as a citizen of the Reich, was imprisoned in Paris. After six months’ incarceration and several journeys to the north and south of France, he was released, made his way to Morocco and then England.
Sedivka spent twenty years in England before moving to Australia in 1961.
Jan Sedivka was Director of the Tasmanian Conservatorium from 1972–1982 and had an illustrious career as a violin teacher. He was responsible for the commissioning of a considerable number of violin concertos and string quartets by Australian composers.
Beryl Sedivka (1930– ) was born in England but grew up in France. She studied with Marcel Ciampi. After the Second World War, she returned to England and had lessons from Franz Reizenstein and Solomon. She gave recitals and BBC broadcasts throughout Great Britain and married Jan Sedivka in 1960, shortly before relocating to Queensland.
Beryl Sedivka was honoured as one of Australia’s leading pianists and gave innumerable solo and concerto performances and broadcasts for the ABC.
Beryl has said that chamber music became a major part of her life in Hobart. She was lecturer in piano at the Tasmanian Conservatorium until 2008.
Cellist Sela Trau (1898-1991) was educated in Vienna before moving to Berlin. She studied cello with Joseph Malkin in Vienna, then Hugo Becker in Berlin, and finally with Emanuel Feuerman in Switzerland.
Trau married violinist Max Rostal and although she wholeheartedly embraced German culture, as war loomed, they moved to England where Rostal founded the British violin school. Jewish refugees and displaced artists who were musicians met at Trau’s home and Sedivka was included in that circle of European talent. In fact, he shared the Hampstead house with her, and when he left London, he was adamant that Trau accompany him and his wife to Australia.
Trau was primarily a chamber musician and Sedivka admitted that her influence on him in this area was profound.
Subsequently, Trau taught cello at the Tasmanian Conservatorium.
THE TRIO AND THE SEDIVKA INFLUENCE
The first performance of the Tasmanian Conservatorium Trio was on 22 March 1966 at the University of Tasmania’s former music block auditorium on the main university campus. The Mercury reported that it was an important event, and showed that Tasmania now had a chamber ensemble of international calibre.
The Trio performed in Launceston in July 1966 and it was reported that, ‘As an established ensemble, always together, they live, breathe and dine on their compounded interests in music, reading new works together, and polishing familiar ones. In representing Czechoslovakia, Austria and Britain, they are truly international but are now resident in Tasmania to inform our own budding musicians and delight lovers of chamber music’.
Sedivka admitted that the Tasmanian Conservatorium Trio was conservative. He decided repertoire for the trio and at that time, no one was interested in contemporary music and the only way to secure audiences was to perform the ‘classical’ repertoire. Audiences swelled, however, the Trio did introduce a number of contemporary works to Tasmania’s audiences including compositions by Bloch, Shostakovich, Copland, Kodály and gave the first Australian performance of Alan Rawsthorne’s Trio.
From October 1966 to July 1973, the Tasmanian Conservatorium Trio presented eight chamber concerts for The Friends of Music. In addition the chamber music organisation continued to arrange visits by international groups including the Bartók String Quartet and the Trio Stradivarius in 1970.
Apart from Sedivka’s Trio, there was no other permanent chamber group in Tasmania, and from the early 1970s, as Sedivka was Director of the Tasmanian Conservatorium, he had the student resources and their enthusiasm to create a number of string quartets.
Chamber music became an integral component in Conservatorium studies. In 1972–3, several string quartets were formed and in 1974 at a masterclass with the Berg Quartet, Sedivka assembled three string quartets, one of which was the Petra String Quartet that evolved into a permanent group in 1974. This group performed extensively for Musica Viva and gave concerts throughout Australia and overseas. This quartet was particularly notable for its premiere performances of contemporary Australian compositions by Richard Meale, Don Kay and others.
Through the chamber music program at the Tasmanian Conservatorium, the popular Summer School was launched and focussed on chamber music instruction and concerts.
The final performance given by the Tasmanian Conservatorium Trio was in 1978, but Jan and Beryl Sedivka presented a concert for Musica Viva Tasmania on 14 March 1992 in which they gave the premiere public performance of Edward Cowie’s Voices of the Land for violin and piano (1988).
ON BOARD WITH MUSICA VIVA
Tasmania was the last state to be incorporated into the federal administrative structure of Musica Viva.
In 1974, first mention was made by the Friends of Music to be part of the national chamber music organisation. At that time, the Tasmanian administration boasted one hundred and fifty-three members and stated that a Hobart branch would attempt to increase member numbers.
An application for a State Government subsidy to assist covering costs for an annual series of chamber concerts was made and at the end of 1974, the official branch status of Musica Viva was approved. In 1975, chamber music societies were established in Launceston and in the north-west of the state.
Concerts were held in the Hobart Town Hall before relocating to the University Centre in Sandy Bay.
In 1977, there were 478 subscribers and an average of 40 door sales. Loyal Burley became secretary and a member of the Musica Viva Council. She was president of Musica Viva Tasmania from 1979 until 1985.
Musica Viva’s role as a presenter of chamber music concerts in Tasmania continues, and it remains the most valuable and accessible provider of outstanding visiting and Australian chamber music ensembles. Long may the organisation be a part of Tasmania’s musical life!
Dr Elinor Morrisby is a Tasmanian-based music writer and researcher.
 Christian Wojtowicz, interview with writer, Hobart, 17 August 2005.
 Notes by Loyal Burley.
 ‘The Tasmanian String Quartet,’ Canon 8, April 1955: 356-7.
 Ernest Rogers, ‘The Tasmanian String Quartet,’ Canon 8, April 1955: 357.
 Mention of this quartet was made in The Mercury (Hobart), 10 August 1963.
 Notes by Loyal Burley.
 Letter from Loyal Burley to Musica Viva dated 30 August 1989, Musica Viva Archives, Sydney.
 The London International Trio comprised Sedivka, pianist Tom Bromley and cellist Sela Trau, and presented concerts throughout England from 1947 until 1956.
 Christian Wojtowicz, interview with writer, Hobart, 17 August 2005.
 Max Rostal (1906-1991) had an illustrious career in Britain as a performer and teacher.
 Max Oldaker, ‘Conservatorium Trio’, The Examiner, August 1, 1966, 6.
 Notes by Loyal Burley.