15 June 2020
Mary Mageau (1934-2020)
'Oh the orchestra - with its range of colours and resonance - so wonderfully able to express big musical ideas! I love it because it has always been so challenging to keep this huge body of musicians all playing, while being able to express one's ideas on a large canvas. It has always been my favourite medium to work within.'
This is how composer, and later poet and writer Mary Mageau (1934-2020) described her relationship with the orchestra in 1997, in a conversation written down by her younger colleague Ruth Lee Martin. Over her composing career, she wrote close to 20 works for big forces, from overtures to symphonic works, concertos and compositions for string orchestra. She also wrote a great many works for solo instruments - particularly piano, but also harpsichord, which was her own instrument - as well as chamber works, often involving woodwinds. She also wrote a number of much-loved vocal works.
Born in the United States, Mary Mageau first arrived in Australia in 1974 as a guest music lecturer. In her new home country, Mageau received commissions from Musica Viva, the Queensland Philharmonic, the ABC, the Strathfield Symphony Orchestra and the Australia Council for the Arts. Soloists from the US also commissioned works, and international orchestras that played and recorded her works include the Hartford, Duluth, Des Moines and Minnesota Orchestras in the USA, and Slovak and Polish Radio Symphony Orchestras in Europe. Mageau's music has been released on 17 CDs.
The 2005 song cycle Remembering Albany remained her last composition, but Mageau did not retire from artistic life, instead reinventing herself as writer of poems and novellas. You can read Mageau's writing and see her nature photography on her website.
Mary Mageau passed away in January 2020 at the age of 85.
© Australian Music Centre (2020) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
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Vale - from May Howlett
Just a word to express my sympathies to Australian Women in Music at reading of the passing of Mary Mageau.
I didn't know her well - but I met her some years ago at a Festival for Women in Music. Apart from possessing a number of skills which gained her international recognition, she was a very distinguished and delightful lady.
She belonged to a generation of Australian women composers who set the bar very high with a particular kind of grace.