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Your K.S. 42: Katharine Susannah and Music

- Picture: The KSP piano in the Writers' Centre, current day.

Katharine Susannah Prichard loved music and particularly the piano. She once wrote to her granddaughter, ‘I always hoped your piano would be like a friend… comforting when things are difficult and disappointing.’ In her early thirties, Katharine was close friends with a composer named Henry Tate. She wrote that when she was in Melbourne during World War One:

Mother and I were living in a dreary, two-storey house in Malvern road. My work-room at the top of the stairs had a piano… I was enchanted by [Henry] Tate's music…[and] a friend brought [him] to see me… A slight, cadaverous man with great luminous eyes and delicate hands, he was [an] accountant in a fellmonger's warehouse when he used to come and play his new compositions to me… Tate taught me to understand music better than I had ever done. (Child of the Hurricane, 228)

Tate was inspired to write one of his symphonies by the birdsong at Katharine’s cottage in Emerald in the bush out of Melbourne. He composed another piece for Katharine’s wedding and played it at the small reception in 1919.

There are a number of musicians in Katharine’s books, but the most notable is the character Elodie in Intimate Strangers (1937). Elodie had to give up her dreams of being a concert pianist when she fell pregnant and now in middle age finds herself disappointed with life. But music is a solace, and in one memorable scene Katharine describes at length the experience of playing the piano, including this paragraph:

The old piano spoke through her fingers. Page after page of the tight-packed script fluttered away. Absolved from ulterior brooding, her soul loosed its tight petals. She confessed to passion and despair in the stormy grandeur of the themes under her hands. To live was to suffer; but to take the storms of life with exultation, defying the gods with joy in it all, that was the great achievement!

One physical reminder of Katharine’s love of music is her piano—sitting proudly for all to see at the KSP Writers’ Centre. Katharine’s friend, Vic Williams, wrote that, ‘An old friend and comrade of KSP, Mr Howard Bradley, who was once a piano tuner… obtained her piano after her death, repaired and tuned it’. (Letter to Glen Phillips, 25 April 1988, Joan Williams Papers, SLWA, 5425A/20)

- More on Katharine at Nathan’s blog at

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