Linda Phillips (1899-2002) was born in of Russian-Australian parentage. She began writing verse and composing music at an early age, leaving school to enrol at the University of Melbourne Conservatorium. Her studies at the Conservatorium included piano with Edward Goll and harmony with Dr J. Steele. She later undertook composition studies with Fritz Hart – who held the then radical view that women were quite able to write music.
Hart encouraged Phillips’s abilities in chamber music, particularly in song writing, and for over 70 years eisteddfodau have been popular places for the performance of her songs. This popularity is due to her uncanny ability in capturing the essence of a text in music, and for her pieces to always be comfortable for the voice. So impressed was Dame Joan Sutherland by Linda’s songs that she placed many of them on her active repertoire list. In 1956 the BBC broadcast a selection of Phillips’ songs performed by Sutherland, with the composer as accompanist. A recent Tall Poppies CD release Recital: Australian Art Song features two of Phillips’ songs sung by Merlyn Quaife.
In addition to her vocal catalogue, Linda also wrote numerous less well-known instrumental and chamber works. This side of her output was the focus of a recital presented by ABC Classic FM at the Iwaki Auditorium, Melbourne, to celebrate her 100th birthday in 1999.
Phillips’ oeuvre can be divided into two distinct sections – the English Pastoral style, and exotica in the form of scores influenced by ancient Judaic music. During her composing life Linda was fascinated by Middle Eastern and Jewish music, particularly Hebraic Music and folk songs of the Middle East. One such work, Exaltation, is scored for oboe, violin, cello and piano, is based on Chassidic air and dance, and is alternatively melancholic and exuberant. Works typical of Phillips’ more traditional style include Rhapsody Sonata for violin and piano, and Sea Impressions for piano solo.
During her lifetime Phillips has received a number of honours, including the OBE in 1975 and the Composer-of-Honour commendation from the Music Department at Monash University in 1994. Some months before the Monash event she gained VIP status at the Second Australian Composing Women’s Festival and Conference.