(b Melbourne, 29 Dec 1912; d Sydney, 25 June 1990). Australian composer, naturalized American. She was a major figure in American musical life as a New York-based critic, composer, and concert organizer from the late 1940s into the 1960s. From 1960 she spent increasing amounts of time outside the USA, especially in Greece. In 1966 she underwent surgery in New York to remove a brain tumor; she recovered but virtually ceased composing. In 1975 she moved from Greece to Australia, where her music attracted renewed attention from performers and audiences. In 1987 the University of Sydney awarded her the honorary DMus.
She received her first composition training from 1930 at the Albert Street Conservatorium (now Melba Conservatorium) in Melbourne, where she studied with the conductor and opera composer Fritz Hart. In 1932 she won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London, where she studied with Vaughan Williams (composition), Arthur Benjamin (piano), and Constant Lambert and Malcolm Sargent (conducting). The award of an Octavia Travelling Scholarship (1936–1937) enabled her to further her studies with Wellesz in Vienna and with Nadia Boulanger in Paris.
In 1938 Glanville-Hicks married the English pianist and composer Stanley Bate and on occasion wrote as Peggy Bate until their divorce in 1949. In 1940 and 1941 she traveled with Bate to Melbourne and Sydney, and then to New York, where they decided to settle. In 1952 she married Rafael da Costa, an Austrian-Israeli critic, whom she divorced in 1953. She lived in the USA from 1941 to the early 1960s, taking American citizenship in 1949.
In 1947 she became a New York Herald Tribune critic; Virgil Thomson was her senior colleague. During the next eight concert seasons, October through April, the paper published over 500 of her reviews, mostly of new music. She also published reviews and essays in Musical America, Music & Letters, The Musical Quarterly, the New York Times, Vogue, Juilliard Review, and other journals. She updated the American material in Grove’s Dictionary (5th edition, 1954) and contributed 98 entries on current American composers and eight articles on Danish composers.
She was active in support of other musicians, first through the League of Composers and then with the American Composers Alliance. She organized concerts and commercial recordings of new music, usually including a work of her own. She assisted Yehudi Menuhin in presenting concerts of Indian music (1955). For almost ten years in the 1950s, she was employed by the New York Composers Forum to organize concerts of new American music with discussion by the composers.
As a critic and writer she was as concerned with identifying a composer’s source of inspiration as with explaining compositional technique, including atonalism, serialism, neo-classicism, musique concrète, and the mid-century avant garde. She described the qualities of American inspiration in the music of Ives, Virgil Thomson, Copland, Douglas Moore, the young Leonard Bernstein and others. Yet her outlook was thoroughly international. She was most interested in the music of the ‘exotics’ or ‘musical explorers’ such as John Cage, Lou Harrison, Paul Bowles, Colin McPhee, Alan Hovhaness and Edgard Varèse. Like them, she found in various non-Western musical cultures more authentic, even mystical sources of inspiration.
After the concert season, from May to September, she had more time to write music and to gather inspiration. She travelled to other parts of the USA and to England, Germany, Italy, Greece, Jamaica, Morocco, India, Australia and elsewhere. Her work was supported by several major awards, including a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1953–54), two Guggenheim Fellowships (1956–58), a Fulbright Fellowship (1960) and a Rockefeller Grant (1960) for travel and living expenses in the Middle East and Asia.
As a composer she had an affinity, probably reinforced by her training with Hart and Vaughan Williams, for tonal music, consonant and often non-diatonic harmonies, and modal melodies such as are heard in traditional or folk musics. Her melodic writing is distinctive, as are her clear textures and rhythmic patterns, often reinforced by a variety of percussion instruments. She was inspired by the melodies and rhythms of several traditions: Spain (in the Sonata for Harp), India (The Transposed Heads), North Africa (Letters from Morocco), sub-Saharan Africa (Sonata for Piano and Percussion), South America (Prelude and Presto for Ancient American Instruments), the Italian peninsula (Concertino antico, Etruscan Concerto), and, in her mind the most authentic of all, ancient Greece (Nausicaa, Sappho).
The plots of her operas and ballets involve subjects close to her heart. The Transposed Heads explores the dilemma of a woman whose marriage to a high-born man enhances her social position, but who then falls in love with his best friend, a less ascetic type, and is unable to live without both of them. The plot of Nausicaa (produced at the 1961 Athens Festival) explores female authorship, specifically the female tradition in ancient Greek mythology. Sappho (commissioned by San Francisco Opera) depicts a woman poet and composer contending with conflicting demands of work and love.
Glanville-Hicks was a successful and innovative artist in an essentially commercial system. She cultivated men and women with influence and money to sponsor her productions. She found leading performers, conductors and choreographers whose styles and interests suited her own. Her skills as a publicist, as well as the quality of her work, helped attract audiences. Although she once said that ‘in America they handed me fame and fortune on a platter’, in reality she worked very hard for her musical and spiritual values.
Stage works (libretto by Glanville-Hicks unless otherwise stated)
Hylas and the Nymphs, ballet, 1935
Caedmon (op, 7 scenes), 1935–6
Postman’s Knock, ballet, 1938
The Transposed Heads (op, 6 scenes, after T. Mann: Die vertauschten Köpfe), 1953, Louisville, KY, Columbia Auditorium, 3 April 1954
The Glittering Gate (op, 1, after Lord Dunsany), 1956, New York, 15 May 1959
The Masque of the Wild Man, ballet, 1958
Nausicaa (prol, 3, R. Graves and A. Reid, after Graves: Homer’s Daughter), 1960, Athens, Herodes Atticus, 19 Aug 1961
Carlos among the Candles (W. Stevens), 1962 [libretto only]
Saul and the Witch of Endor, TV ballet, 1964
Sappho (op, 3, after L. Durrell), 1965
A Season in Hell, ballet after A. Rimbaud, 1965
Tragic Celebration (Jephtha’s Daughter), ballet, 1966
Prelude for a Pensive Pupil, pf, 1932? (pub. 1958, 1963)
3 Gymnopédie, ob, cel, hp, str, 1934 [rev. 1953]
Trio for Pipes, 3 rec, 1934; Sinfonietta, orch, 1935
Pastoral, pf, 1936; Prelude, orch, 1936
Prelude and Scherzo, orch, 1937
Sonatina, fl/rec, pf, 1939
Concertino da camera, fl, cl, bn, pf, 1945
Sonata, hp, 1951
Sonata for Piano and  Percussion, 1952
Sinfonia da Pacifica, 1953
Concertino antico, hp, str qt, 1955
Etruscan Concerto, pf, chbr orch, 1956
Musica Antiqua no.1, 2 fl, hp, mar, 2 perc, timp, 1957
Concerto Romantico, va, orch, 1957;
Prelude and Presto for ancient insts, 1957
Meditation, orch, 1964
Tapestry, orch, 1964
Drama, cl, tpt, pf, 3 perc, str, 1966
Ireland (D. McKee Wright), female chorus, 1931
Pastoral (R. Tagore), female chorus, eng hn, 1933
Be Still You Little Leaves (M. Webb), 1v, pf, 1934
Come Sleep (J. Fletcher), 1v, pf, 1934; Frolic (G. Russell), 1v, pf, 1934
Rest (Russell), 1v, pf, 1934
Choral Suite (Fletcher), female chorus, ob, str, 1937
Aria concertante (M. Monteforte-Toledo), T, female chorus, ob, pf, gong, 1945
Last Poems (A.E. Housman), 5 songs, 1v, pf, 1945
Profiles from China (E. Tietjens), 5 songs, T, pf/chbr orch, 1945
Ballade (P. Bowles), 3 songs, 1v, pf, 1945
Sidi Amar in Winter (Bowles), 1v, pf, 1946
Dance Cantata (Navaho text, arr. E. Hawkins), T, spkr, speaking chorus, orch, 1946
13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (W. Stevens), S, pf, 1947
Thomsoniana (V. Thomson), S/T, fl, hn, pf, str qt, 1949
Letters from Morocco (Bowles), 6 songs, T, chbr orch, 1952
Madrigals (Stevens), SATB, 1955: No.2 The Night is the Color of a Woman’s Arm, No.5 Not all the Knives of the Lamp Posts, No.6 Rationalists! Wearing Square Hats
The Robot, Music for an Abstract Film, 1936, composed for a composition exam at RCM, score now lost
Clouds, 1938, composed for a film produced in London, England, score lost
Glacier, 1938, composed for a documentary film, score lost
Tulsa, 1949, a documentary history of Tulsa, Oklahoma, produced by U.S. Dept of State for circulation in occupied territory, also listed as produced by U.S. Dept of the Army and Knickerbocker Productions; score in State Library of NSW, Sydney
Tel, 1950, music for an animated cartoon produced by Film Graphics, Inc.; score in State Library of NSW, Sydney
For All the World’s Children (earlier titles: Three of Our Children & The African Story), 1959, commissioned by Thorold Dickinson at the United Nations Dept of Public Information to promote immunization in Africa. Score in State Library of NSW, Sydney
A Scary Time, 1960, directed by Shirley Clarke and Robert Hughes for UNICEF (10 mins), film produced by UN Dept of Public Information but not released, as viewers found scenes of suffering children too awful. Score in State Library of NSW, Sydney, and published by Composers Facsimile Editions in New York. Director edited out much of the music.
MSS in AUS-Msl, Mitchell Library, AUS-Ssl, US-LOu, AUS-CAnl
Principal publishers: Associated, Colfrank, Hargail, L’oiseau-lyre (Paris), Peters (New York), Schott (New York), Weintraub
G. Antheil: ‘Peggy Glanville-Hicks’, Bulletin of American Composers Alliance,
4/1 (1954), 2–9
P. Glanville-Hicks: ‘At the Source’, Opera News, 26/6 (1961–2), 8–13 [on
J.W. LePage: ‘Peggy Glanville-Hicks’, Women Composers, Conductors and
Musicians of the Twentieth Century: Selected Biographies, II (Metuchen,
NJ, 1983), 142–62
D. Hayes: Peggy Glanville-Hicks: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, CT, 1990).
For updates, see below*
W. Beckett: Peggy Glanville-Hicks (Sydney, 1992)
D. Hayes: “ ‘A Poem by a Woman’s Hand”: The Greek Operas of Peggy
Glanville-Hicks,” Musics and Feminisms, ed. S. Macarthur and C.
Poynton (Sydney, 1999), 57–62, 171–4.
J. Murdoch: Peggy Glanville-Hicks: A Transposed Life (New York, 2002).
S. Robinson: Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Composer and Critic (Urbana, IL, 2019).
*Bio-Bibliography updates by Deborah Hayes and Suzanne Robinson
• Writings by Glanville-Hicks (G numbers)
• Writings About Glanville-Hicks (B numbers)
PGH: A Life in Pictures - maintained by Dr. Suzanne Robinson, University of Melbourne.
Peggy Glanville-Hicks Composers’ House - maintained by the Trustees of the Glanville-Hicks Estate
Peggy Glanville-Hicks: Represented Artist - maintained by the Australian Music Centre in Sydney