Ruby Claudia Emily Davy (1883-1949)
Born in Salisbury in 1883, Ruby Davy was a shy child of often delicate health who demonstrated early musical prodigy. By the age of 13, Ruby was already teaching 27 of her own pupils at her mother’s Salisbury School of Music.
She commenced studies at the Elder Conservatorium of Music in 1904 at the age of 20, gaining in the same year the University’s Associate of Music. Ruby was the first Conservatorium student to take composition as a principal subject.
Ruby graduated in 1907 and continued to teach music at the Salisbury School of Music and from a studio at Allan’s Music Shop in Rundle St, in addition to performing and accompanying other artists.
In 1912 Ruby gained the Associate Diploma of the London College of Music, then the criterion for teaching. Temporarily engaged to teach Theory of Music at the Elder Conservatorium, Ruby was not offered a permanent position; her criticism of conservative teaching methods retarding her academic career. The first permanent woman teacher was not appointed until several years later.
In 1913, at the age of 30, Ruby began her Doctorate of Music studying violin, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, French horn, trumpet, trombone, kettle drums and other instruments of percussion, and graduated as Australia’s first woman Doctor of Music in 1918.
There followed a prosperous and happy period for Ruby, teaching music and performing while her mother managed all household and business affairs. The sudden death of both parents in 1929 led to a nervous breakdown and the closing of her music school, by then located in Prospect.
At the age of 51, Ruby sought a fresh start in Melbourne. She opened a new music school and gave well attended lectures and recitals to societies and audiences while developing her own ‘colour’ theory of music (which was not well regarded by the conservative music establishment).
In 1939, following the encouragement of many visiting artists, Ruby organised a 3-year tour of England, Europe, Canada and America. Upon her arrival in London, Ruby immersed herself in the local music scene, but the onset of war saw the cancellation of all theatrical and musical performances.
Regulations were relaxed after the expected air raids did not eventuate and Ruby was able to give her planned series of lecture recitals at Wigmore Hall as well as some radio broadcasts. Ruby was however continually afflicted by ill-health and money difficulties and in May 1940, exhausted, still short of funds and unable to cope with the cold climate, left England for America where she gave a number of acclaimed recitals and broadcasts before returning to Melbourne.
Increasingly frail, Ruby died in Melbourne in 1949. Her body was returned to Adelaide for burial in the ornate memorial grave erected for her parents at West Terrace cemetery. Ruby left £300 in her will to the University of Adelaide to provide a scholarship in her name, which survives today as Dr Ruby Davy Prize for Composition, and the residual funds of her estate were used to buy the complete works of Beethoven and Mozart for the Conservatorium Library.
Ruby’s advanced music theories and her criticism of conventional teaching techniques compounded the gender issues which prevented this talented young woman from attaining an academic career. Ruby Davy was however a remarkably successful teacher of music, many of her pupils achieving outstanding results and in turn becoming teachers themselves.
The war had interrupted Ruby’s international campaign but her performances were always acclaimed by the public and in the press, and her interpretation of music as a function of the imagination rather than technical skill helped many to understand and think about music in a new way.
(The above account is largely derived from Rita M. Wilson’s Ruby Davy: Academic and Artiste. Salisbury & District Historical Society, 1995)
1. Correspondence. December 1938 - February 1940, November 1947. 1 vol
[principally relating to Dr. Davy’s visit to England, recitals given there and receptions. File includes a single letter 1928 to Gerald Lawrence from ?Edward Elgar.]
2. Scrapbook (photographs, posters, programmes, invitations, addresses, broadcasts). July 1939 - August 1941. 1 vol. Poster of Wigmore Hall recital removed from scrapbook and housed in MAP CABINET.
[relating to visit to England, recitals given, concerts attended and civic reception on her return to Australia.]
3. Manuscript scores. 1916 - (most undated)
[Chorus My soul doth magnify
Chorus He hath shewed strength
Chorus (including 5-part fugue)
Tenor solo with chorus
Soprano solo with chorus
Duett with chorus
Australia fair and free
Song When we were pals together
Misc.orchestral examples [other composers]
Various un-named and incomplete scores.]
4. Manuscript exercises for diplomas, degrees, etc
4.1 Magnificat and nunc dimittis. 1904. Exercise for Diploma of Associate in Music, 1905.
4.2 A setting of the Magnificat (prayer-book version), June 1907. Exercise for the Degree of Bachelor of Music.
4.3 An exercise for the Degree of Mus. Doc. September 1917. Exercises transferred from book collection in March 2006.
5.1 Album containing a selection of Audidisk records specifically recorded by and for Dr Davy during her visit to Melbourne in November and December 1934. Labelled: "Featuradio: radio program advisers. Album no. two"
(No. 20-21. After the ball: a musical monologue by Dr Ruby Davy. FM 290 -- No. 22-23. Wiegenlied: violin solo by Beatrice Phillips with piano accompaniment by Ruby Davy. FM 272 -- No. 24-32. Illustrated lecture on folk music: Parts 1-10. FM 321. Introduction / English folk songs / Scotch folk music / Welch & German folk music and French & Spanish folk music / Russian & Polish folk music / Gypsy (Hungarian) folk music / Italian & Norwegian folk music / Aboriginal folk music / American folk music / Negro spirituals -- No. 34-41. The beautiful in art Parts 1-8. FM 322. The comparison of sister arts: music and architecture / Formal beauty / Characteristic beauty / pianoforte illustrations / Ideal beauty -- Catherine's speech: declamation Parts 1-2. FM 332.
5.2 Another copy of Illustrated lecture on folk music by Dr Ruby Davy Parts 9 & 10 (Part 10 side damaged)
5.3 Single unidentified record (Melbourne: Glen's on cover)
These papers were transferred from the Music Library in May 1992 and 2016.