Dudley Donegal O’Day – a composer’s life

Key Dates and Events

Born 30th April 1918 in Melbourne, Australia, to Elsie May (née Sturgeon) and Basil Donegal O’Day.

Younger sister Maisie May O’Day born 27th May 1920 in Melbourne.

Attended Melbourne Conservatorium of Music from early 1937 but left in mid-1938 (before completing his studies) and sailed on the ship Provençal from Sydney to Southampton.

1938 – 1950 – lived in London in various locations.

1950 – 1960 – lived in Brooklyn, New York, spending summers travelling in Mexico and South America, recording and collecting folk music.

1960 – 1966 – lived in London, dabbling in antiques trading while composing his best known work, Symphony No. 5 in C minor (usually referred to as The Barking Symphony, which premiered in August 1965).

1966 – 1978 – lived in Dublin, Ireland, spending summers recording and collecting Irish folk music.

1978 – 1988 – lived in Florence, Italy, devoting less time to music and more time to running a local ristorante.

1988 – 2008 – lived in Daylesford, Victoria, Australia.

Died 1st May 2008 in Daylesford Hospital.


Key Personality Traits and Appearance, Habits and Likes

Often referred to within his social and composing circles as “the tall Australian”, Dudley was 6 ft 2 in and slender, with a long, thin face, prominent teeth, and pale blue eyes.

Dudley was always clean-shaven, though sometimes sported a moustache. He found his first grey hair (on his head) the day after his 40th birthday, and by his 50th birthday his hair was completely grey. He still had a healthy head of hair when he died.

Before he turned grey though, his hair was a sandy colour.

He never married.

Despite his involvement with restaurants, he was not a lover of coffee (“I wish it tasted the way it smells,” he would often say) and was a beer-drinker, never really taking to wine or spirits.

He liked his tea strong and black: no milk, no sugar.

When conducting his works at concerts, he hated wearing a bowtie or tie, and would often wear neither. He was not fond of formal wear.

He enjoyed cooking, and collected recipe books. At the time of his death, he was collating recipes he had cooked over the years and was hoping to have the recipe book published.

He enjoyed tennis, and took a mild interest in Australian rules football and the AFL.

He retained a soft Australian accent throughout his life, despite his years abroad. He spoke with a gravelly voice, and had a resounding baritone laugh.

His most famous composition, Symphony No. 5 in C minor, usually referred to as The Barking Symphony, was so named because he composed much of it while taking the train from his cottage near Hampstead Heath, to a music teaching position he held from 1962 to 1964, at a small school in Barking, East London.



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