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Dr Joseph Summers (1839-1917) - Victoria and Western Australia


Joseph Summers (1839-1917), musician, was born at Charlton, Somerset,

England, youngest son of George Summers, mason.  He was a chorister at

Wells Cathedral and studied under H. J. Gauntlett and W. Sterndale Bennett; he

fulfilled the requirements of the bachelor of music degree at the University of

Exford about 1863, but it was not conferred until April 1887.  He composed

many hymn tunes and anthems and was organist at St Andrew’s College,

Bradfield, from 1861; Holy Trinity Church, Weston-Super-Mare, in 1864; and St

Peter’s, Notting Hill, London in 1865.  On 21 July 1863 at the parish church of St

George, Bloomsbury, he married Constance, daughter of Silliam Henry

summers, a solicitor.

In 1865 Summers and his wife migrated to Melbourne where his brother Charles

(q.v.) was making his name as a sculptor.  He soon won renown both as pianist

and as composer.  He held posts as organist at St Peter’s, Eastern Hill, in 1868-

79 and at All Saints, St Kilda, until 1896; he was also organist for the Melbourne

Philharmonic Society in 1869 and its conductor in 1872-74, and organist for the

Metropolitan Liedertafel in 1882-83.  He became an examiner of music teachers

under the Board of Education in 1867.  As inspector of music in the Education

Department from 1878, he advocated the staff system of notation and opposed

the Tonic Sol-fa method of teaching music, then being propagated by Dr S.

McBurney (q.v.).  Summers visited England in 1887 and reported on music in

elementary schools in London for the Education Department.  In December

1887 he was admitted to the degree of Mus. Bac. (ad eund.) by the University of

Melbourne and in March 1890 the degree of doctor of music was conferred on

him by the archbishop of Canterbury.

A mining speculator, Summers had become insolvent in 1872, and again in

1891, when he forfeited his post as music inspector.  Upon obtaining a

certificate of discharge, he applied for reinstatement but was accused of

misappropriation and other irregularities; after an inquiry in November, the

minister of education decided not to reappoint him.  In 1893 he sued the Age

newspaper in vain for £500 for printing a satirical review of one of his musical

productions.  Next year he took charge of the Melbourne examination centre of

Trinity College of Music, London.  He was also an examiner in music for the

Tasmanian Council of Education, the University of Tasmania and the University

of Adelaide.

In early 1897 Summers moved to Perth, Western Australia.  Late in 1899 he was

commissioned by Fr James Duff to compose music for a dramatised version of

Milton’s poetry, to be called ‘The Two Worlds’.  Summers completed twenty-

seven pieces of music, which he assessed at £10.10s. each, but Duff had

already turned to another composer; in a court case in March 1901 Summers

won public performing rights, but in August he failed to obtain payment from Duff

of money which he claimed was still owing to him.  He continued to compose

and to teach music in Perth and under his conductorship a Philharmonic Society

and a Liedertafel were established.  In 1920 he published Music and Musicians:

Personal Reminiscences.  Aged 78, he died of heart failure on 10 October 1917,

pre-deceased by his wife in April 1901 and survived by a son and a daughter. 

He was buried in the Anglican section of the Karrakatta cemetery.

Biographical summary by Robin S. Stevens.



Stevens, R. S.,  'Joseph Summers, 1839-1917, Musician' in Australian

Dictionary of Biography,vol. 6, ed. by Bede Nairn.  Melbourne University Press,

1976, pp. 220-221.


Stevens, R. S., Music in State-Supported Education in New South Wales and

Victoria, 1848-1920  (PhD thesis, University of Melbourne, 1978).  University

Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1980, No. 80-24820.

Summers, J., Music and Musicians: Personal Reminiscences, 1865-1910. The

Galway Printing Company, Perth, 1910.