Adelaide's Queen of the Piano
Maude Mary Puddy (1883-1974) was one of the first students to graduate from the Elder Conservatorium of Music, and certainly one of its more remarkable.
Coming from a relatively modest background, her success was testament both to the progressive attitude towards women and a degree of social mobility that existed in key parts of late 19th century Adelaide society.
Her rise to international prominence as a pianist was also evidence of the quality of teaching at the new Elder Conservatorium. In the years between her graduation in 1905 and appointment as teacher of piano in 1920, she distinguished herself in Europe as a star student of the legendary Theodor Leschetizky, and later as a teacher and performer in her own right.
Born in 1883, Maude Puddy was recognised as gifted from an early age. Her father, a fitter and turner and self-taught pianist, encouraged her playing. She attended Hindmarsh Public School and at age nine, gave a recital at the school's end-of-year concert, the first of many childhood public performances in churches, town halls and schools. At 10, she won joint first prize with a 15-year-old at the Public School's Floral and Industrial Exhibition.
In terms of South Australian musical education and culture, Maude was born at the right time. In 1898, she was just old enough to be granted a scholarship to attend the brand-new Elder Conservatorium of Music.
Her seven years with the Conservatorium as a student were marked by scholarship renewals, acclaimed concerts and prizes in a range of areas. In 1900, at the age of 17 she was awarded the University's first Associate of Music Diploma, out-competing her male counterparts for the honour of being the first recipient of the new award. In 1905, she graduated with a Bachelor of Music.
Like many inspired Australians before and after her, Maude then travelled to Europe to be closer to the source of her art. After a year in London, she went to Vienna where she had been accepted as a pupil of the eminent piano teacher Theodor Leschetizky. In the years leading up to the First World War, she made a name for herself as a skilled performer and teacher. Leschetizky considered her one of his best students, "a distinguished pianist and teacher". She also soaked up the cultural atmosphere of pre-War Vienna, writing to her father in 1910, "It is delightful to hear the best of music given by the best performers - in the very best style."
In 1919, Maude was hired by the Elder Conservatorium as a temporary replacement for her first professional teacher, Immanuel Reimann. Conservatorium Director Dr. E. Harold Davies was quick to write to the University Council, "I cannot too strongly recommend that her services be - if possible - retained. She is in every way a great source of strength and efficiency and deserves our utmost consideration".
Fortunately for Davies and the Conservatorium, the Council agreed and Maude accepted a permanent position, one from which she would impart for the next three decades the wealth of experience she had gained as a student, teacher and performer in some of the world's leading musical centres.
If Maude Puddy, and later her pupils, took Adelaide to the world, her reputation and the connections she made whilst overseas were responsible for bringing some of the best in the musical world to Adelaide. The University Archives contain numerous inscribed photographs of those she hosted, including fellow Leschetizky pupils Ignaz Friedman, Benno Moiseiwitsch and Ignacy Jan Paderewski. World renown Australians Lauri Kennedy, Dame Nellie Melba and Percy Grainger also visited the Conservatorium. A photograph given to Maude by Percy Grainger with the hand written inscription, "To Maude Puddy, in warm appreciation of her exquisite artistry", is indicative of the esteem in which she was held by fellow musicians.
Maude continued to give solo concerts to a public appreciative of world-class classical music performance. Effusive reviews described "the finest of musical treats". She played with the South Australian and Verbrugghen orchestras, and was among the first classical musicians to embrace wireless broadcasting, performing on 5CL from the late 1920s.
Maude Puddy never married and was once described as a "missionary in music". She performed countless concerts and taught many hundreds of students. Among the photographs she donated to the University Archives a 1911 picture of her famous teacher, on the reverse side of which Leschetizky had written his motto: "No art without life, no life without art." This eloquent expression of the value of a life devoted to and defined by music is clearly something Maude took to heart.
story by Andrew Cook