A coveted possession : the piano in Australia since 1788

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2016
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NO FULL TEXT AVAILABLE. This thesis contains 3rd party copyright material. ----- The piano has long enjoyed a special relationship with the people of Australia, as a visible and audible object in the nation’s transition from a rough and fractious collection of colonies to a ‘Commonwealth of Australia’ in 1901 — a newly federated nation. Pianos accompanied Australian people as they journeyed through diverse political, cultural, social and geographical landscapes, often turning up in the most surprising and far-flung places. The piano served the social bonds of family and community life before the invention of other technologies could do the same. It was at the centre of life in a rapidly urbanising Australia, before the benefits of electricity that led to the proliferation of the radio, the gramophone and the talking picture. Pianos and player pianos brought people together everywhere, people of different ages and backgrounds, to serve and interact with them. Pianos reached distant farmsteads, comforting and educating the lonely and isolated, which, in many cases, were women. The piano was there in times of peace — at the movies, at weddings, dances and parties. And it was also there in times of war, even accompanying servicemen and women at the front in World War I and World War II, as well as the jungles of New Guinea and Vietnam. This invites a number of questions to be addressed in the thesis: How and why did the piano become Australia’s most popular musical instrument? How did local manufacturers contribute to nationalism and pride? How did this instrument, ostensibly a machine developed in the industrial revolution, influence and change the lives of those interacting with it, and evolve in response to local conditions and needs? Historians have tended to overlook Australia’s colonial and post-colonial musical history and focused more readily on literature and visual art. Australian musicologists, until recently, have tended to dwell on the narrower more technical aspects of both the music and lives of individual composers and performers, mostly ignoring the major social, cultural and political contexts. The key questions are answered by examining the piano as an object and commodity in a world of rapidly changing economic, industrial, technological, cultural and political circumstances. Focusing on the different roles of the piano in Australia demonstrates how closely this instrument helped strengthen the bonds between the colonies and reveals how the beginning of piano manufacturing in Australia was increasingly a matter of cultural pride and industrial competency in the contexts of an emerging Australian nationalism. Addressing these questions is undertaken through a cultural history of the piano in Australia to reveal a craving for the instrument that continued well into the twentieth century.
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