Charles Kenningham, ‘Australia’ Hymn

For soprano, chorus, and orchestra. Melbourne, 1901.
Edited by Richard Divall
Australian Music Series – MDA030
ISBN 978-0-9925672-9-3 / ISMN 979-0-9009642-9-8


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On 9 May 1901, In the Melbourne Exhibition Buildings in Carlton, the son of King Edward VII, HRH The Duke of York (later King George V), inaugurated the Official Opening of Australia’s first Parliament. The event was captured in the iconic painting of the Duke’s proclamation and speech by the Australian painter Tom Roberts (1856- 1931), a painting that now hangs in the entry to the Main Committee Rooms in the New Parliament House of Australia in Canberra.

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Amongst the music events that took place in the proceedings, an ‘Australia’ Hymn was performed with solo soprano Nellie Stewart, (possibly chorus) and orchestra. The composer was the celebrated English Gilbert and Sullivan tenor Charles Kenningham, who was touring Australia in a season of G and S repertoire for the impresario J C
Williamson. Scored for a solo voice, chorus and orchestra the work seemingly received very few performances afterwards, and dropped out of sight until the vocal materials and orchestral parts were passed to the National Library of Australia.

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Charles Kenningham was born on 18 November 1860 in Hull and sing for some years as a chorister before enlisting for two years in the 5th Dragoon Guards. Possessing an exceptional and clear tenor voice, he sang for five years at Canterbury Cathedral before embarking on a stage career in 1882 in opera and operetta. In 1891 he sang the role of Maurice de Bracy in the premiere of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s heroic English opera Ivanhoe. He was invited the following month to join the roster of singers with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company which specialised in operetta and especially the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. With that company he created the roles of Captain Fitzbattleaxe in Utopia Limited, and in 1896 of Ernst Dumkopf in The Grand Duke. He was an immensely successful and popular singer in this repertoire, and in 1898 he commenced a long tour of New Zealand and Australia with the J C Williamson Company. When the tour ended, Kenningham decided to remain in Australia with his wife, and continued performing until ill health made him retire to Maryborough in Queensland where he died on 24 October 1925.