TATE, Henry (1873-1926)


TATE, Henry (1873-1926)
musician and poet
son of Henry Tate, accountant, was born at Prahran, Melbourne, on 27 October 1873. He was educated at a local state school and as a choir boy at a St Kilda Anglican church, and developed his musical knowledge under Marshall Hall (q.v.). He worked for some time as a clerk and then became a teacher of music, but he was not overburdened with pupils as he was too conscientious to encourage a child that had no talent, and he was no believer in coaching children for music examinations. He contributed some verse to the Bulletin and other journals, and conducted a chess column in a Melbourne weekly paper. In 1910 he brought out a little volume, The Rune of the Bunyip and other Verse, and in 1917 a pamphlet, Australian Musical Resources, Some Suggestions. Slight as this pamphlet was it showed the possibilities of the development of an Australian school of musical composers who could be as typical of their soil as those of any other country. He extended some of his suggestions in a volume published at Melbourne in 1924, Australian Musical Possibilities. In this year he became musical critic for the Age newspaper, and carried out his work with ability and great sincerity. One of his compositions, Bush Miniatures, was played in Melbourne in 1925 and a more ambitious work, Dawn, an Australian rhapsody for full orchestra with a melodic and rhythmic foundation based on Australian bird calls, was later performed by the university symphony orchestra under Bernard Heinze. This was favourably received by both critics and public, but the value of his work had scarcely begun to be appreciated when Tate died after a short illness on 6 June 1926. He married Violet Eleanor Mercer who survived him. He had no children. His poems were collected and published in 1928 with a portrait and an introduction by Elsie Cole.
Tate was a modest, thoroughly sincere and lovable man with great gifts. He was an excellent chess player who represented Victoria in interstate matches, and was a good bowler and captained a pennant rink. These were his relaxations in a busy life in which for a time he had a struggle to make a living. As a poet, apart from the generous praise of Bernard O'Dowd, the tendency has been to underrate him. He was not one of the leading Australian poets, but his verse is often musical, he had something to say, he is never trivial and is seldom commonplace. As a composer he holds an important place in the history of Australian music. He was not content to merely follow in the tracks of either the ancients or the moderns, but working with a "deflected scale" based on the ordinary major scale with figure and melody developed from Australian bird calls, he showed how a purely Australian school of composers of music could be developed. Little of his music was published. A list of his compositions to the end of 1923 is given as an appendix to his Australian Musical Possibilities, and in another appendix two short compositions are printed.
The Age, Melbourne, 7 June 1926; The Argus, Melbourne, 8 June 1926; The Herald, Melbourne, 22 July 1927; Manuscripts, No. 3; Introduction to his Poems; personal knowledge.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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