WA Musical Memories Online A Digital collection of printed music from Western Australia and the nation

Joseph Summers

Born in Charlton, Somerset, England in 1839, and died in Perth, 10 October, 1917. Summers was a composer, church musician and school music inspector. Before emigrating to Melbourne in 1865 on the Royal Standard, he studied with Goss, Gauntlett and Sterndale Bennett, completed a Bachelor of Music at Oxford and a Doctorate of Music at Canterbury. Summers was the organist at St Peter’s, Eastern Hill from 1868-1879, then at All Saints, St Kilda from 1879-1896. While at St Peter’s, he was also the conductor of the Melbourne Philharmonic Society, 1872-1874.

As a school music inspector for the Victorian Department of Education (1878-91), he supported the teaching of staff notation rather than the traditional tonic sol-fa method.

He moved to Perth in 1897. Although he had plans for retiring in Subiaco, he was persuaded by local musicians to form a musical society, the Philharmonic, which had 50 members. Summers also conducted a Liedertafel Society.

Soon after his arrival in Perth, Rev. James Duff commissioned him to compose music to his dramatized version of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, entitled The Two Worlds. It was completed after fifteen months’ work, and was first performed at a private hearing at Bishop’s Palace. The work was well received, and was later performed for Governor Lawley at Government House by Williamson’s Royal Opera Co., with one reviewer claiming that ‘it is glorious music’.

From 1903-1910, Summers was only working as a composer, and during this time he wrote An Australian Christmas Carol. The majority of his compositions were choral music, including hymns, anthems, and patriotic songs.

Further reading:
Summers, J. Music and musicians: personal reminiscences, 1865 – 1910. Galwey Printing Company, Perth, 1910.

Bebbington, W. (ed) Oxford companion to Australian music. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1997.

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