Thursday 20 September 2018

Extracts from Singabout - John Arcott, the mysterious Melbourne composer who set to music the works of a number of Australian worker-poets

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The Bush Music Club published many new songs & poems in Singabout, Journal of Australian Folk Song between 1956 and 1967. This series lists the works of these writers and musicians and provides biographical information where possible.

Aims of the Bush Music Club, Singabout 1(1), Summer 1956

Singbout 1(1) Summer, 1956, p.17  
He was the winner of the first "Findatune" competition, for the tune to It's Lovely Down the Pit My Lad
by Mick Lawson   Music: John Arcott.

Singabout 1(1),
p.12, 1956
A Man of the Earth
by Jock Graham  Music by John Arcott

Singabout, 1(2), p.11, 1956
 Victory at Bowen by Ross Tracie, music John Arcott
Singabout 1(2)
The Rona's Last Trip
by Merv Lilley   Music: John Arcott

Singabout 1(4)

One of his tunes was included in the 1988 edition of Chris Kempster's Songs of Henry Lawson

 The Glass on the Bar,  p. 56 

It is not easy to find information on John Arcott (sometimes referred to as John Arcot)  

An enquiry to the State Library of Victoria asking for information on John Arcott/Arcot, composer, Melbourne, 1950s received the following reply -  I am one of the librarians working in the Arts Team here at State Library Victoria, and I am responding to you regarding the composer John Arcott. I'm afraid I wasn't able to locate any further information regarding him. The manuscript archive that you referred to merely contains music credited to him - no further details about him are contained within. I also did a search of the Melbourne metropolitan telephone directory for a few years in the 1950s, and didn't find any J. Arcott's (or any Arcot's or Arcott's, for that matter). Hopefully you have better luck with the NLA.

Vol. 1: 7 sonnets of John Keats set to music; Vol. 2: Rejected entries for the Australian National Anthem Quest, 1973 with a forward by Ralph Traill; Article by Ralph Traill "Blest pair of sirens (reprinted from The Rationalist 1963 Mar.-Apr.); Sonatas for violin and pianoforte; Sonatas for violoncello and pianoforte; Suite in G for small orchestra, with notes; Vol. 3: Copies of original music: Clarinet part to Dead Man's Glory (words by David Martin set to music by John Arcot); Songs of poems by David Martin set to music by John Arcott; Songs of poems by Henry Lawson and Mary Gilmore set to music by John Arcott.

Papers of Dame Mary Gilmore in the National Library
Series IV. Sheet music
Eight pieces, including drafts and copies of "Australian Battle Cry", "Six poems by Dame Mary Gilmore set to music by John Arcot" and Six songs from the South (words by Mary Gilmore; music by G.H. Clutsam) (3 folders + 1 volume).

A copy of Singabout: Journal of Australian folk song: v.3, no.1, Summer, 1958 (Item 26)  is also included in her papers.
Papers of David Martin in the National Library 

3 ‘Poem for Laura’: radio play
Script containing an insert of a short piece of music composed by John Arcot, with words by Martin (43pp)
4 ‘The rising of the men’: stage play, c1968
2 bound copies of edited script (74pp). Includes two short pieces of music composed by John Arcot, with words by Martin

Series 41 Music
The musical scores, mostly undated, were written specifically for selected poems of Martin. Most of the music has been composed by John Arcot, but there are also compositions by Berkeley Fase, John Gordon, Wendy Hiscocks, Jenifer Mann, Bernard Stevens and Ralph Traill.

1 Photographs of musical scores by John Arcot for ‘Armistice’ and ‘Dead man’s glory’
Correspondence with Ralph Traill, 1959-64

Folio 1 Music by John Arcot:
‘The almond tree’
‘Apple and arrows’
‘Bagpipes in Hobart’
‘Blinded in Spain’
‘Collinsville’, 1961
‘The empty goal at Castlemaine’
‘Four in the march’
‘Give me a word’
‘In Flanders’, 1959
‘Jarrama, ten years’
‘New Year’s Eve’
‘On the retreat’
‘One day the young will die no more’
‘Soldiers, 1939’
‘Song of the Jarama front’
‘Spring song’
‘The triangle and the star’
‘With a broad sickle’

The papers also include 3 tunes by Jennifer Mann who is featured in Singabout 1(3)

Music by Jenifer Mann: 'The lovely lasses of Innisfail' (Item 1c) - Folio-Box 1

Music by Jenifer Mann:'Song without words' (Item 1c) - Folio-Box 1

Music by Jenifer Mann:'To my daughter-in-law unknown' (Item 1c) - Folio-Box 1


Papers of Ralph Cuthbert Traill in the National Library
Ralph Traill was Deputy Director for the Victorian Scientific Liaison Bureau from 1943 and Chairman of the Victorian Division of the Australian Association of Scientific Workers from 1942. He was a research chemist at Leathercloth Pty Ltd from 1935 to 1940 and a biochemist at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories from 1940 to 1943. Traill was later appointed Vice Principle of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

An entry in the National Library of Australia catalogue for a manuscript collection c.1977
Music, 1954-1973 [manuscript].  Traill, Ralph C. (Ralph Cuthbert) 

The contents include - Clarinet part to Dead Man's Glory (words by David Martin set to music by John Arcot); Songs of poems by David Martin set to music by John Arcott; Songs of poems by Henry Lawson and Mary Gilmore set to music by John Arcott. 


Collection of music manuscripts ​ by Ralph Traill, 1953-1983. in the National Library 

Creator - Traill, Ralph C. (Ralph Cuthbert), (composer.) 

extract -
  • Collection of bound and unbound notated music by Ralph Traill ; in some scores the composer is given as John Arcot, Traill's pen name. Collection comprises 21 holograph bound volumes (in fair copy) and a bundle (about 150 pages) of other compositions, some in pencil draft, some photocopied.
  • The vocal music includes settings of David Martin, Henry Lawson, Mary Gilmore and John Keats ; other items include instrumental sonatas, piano music, a Suite in C and a Suite in G for small orchestra, various items of chamber music and a volume of six, "Rejected entries for the Australian National Anthem Quest 1973" ; some items come with typescript annotations by the composer and other various handwritten and typescript leaves.

John Arcott/Arcot was Ralph Traill's pen name.


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