Henry Backhaus, Two Sacred Duets

For two sopranos and organ  Bendigo, 1860s
Edited by Richard Divall
Australian Music Series – MDA048
ISBN 978-0-9925674-7-7 / ISMN 979-0-9009656-7-7


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George Henry Backhaus was born in 1811 in Paderborn, then in the German, but Napoleonic administered Kingdom of Westphalia. After early studies in the seminary in Paderborn he was sent to Rome to study for the priesthood. After ordination in August 1836 Backhaus was sent on missionary work to India, but health issues in the tropics caused him to seek a more temperate climate. In 1846 he undertook pastoral duties in Sydney, until he was transferred to Adelaide in the following year to work under Bishop Francis Murphy. Because of the need for priests on the Victorian goldfields, Backhaus elected to go to Bendigo in 1852, then named Sandhurst, where on 2 May of that year he celebrated the first Sunday Mass in the area.

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In 1855 Bishop James Goold of Melbourne asked that a substantial church was erected for the area, and Backhaus, who had a particular ability to generate wealth through land dealings, commenced the construction of what became St Kilian’s Church. He also established many schools for the education of local children. He retired from parish duties in 1881 and went to live in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton. But toward his approaching demise, he insisted on returning to Bendigo where he is buried in the churchyard of St Kilian’s Church.

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Backhaus was known to have enjoyed and composed music, and these two sacred works set to Latin texts are all that have survived of his composition.  With their quiet reminiscences of the music of Mendelssohn, they are gentle reminders of Catholicism in pre-Wilhelmine Germany. The Ave Regina Caelorum is one of the main Marian antiphons. The In Te, Domine speravi (In Thee Lord, have I hoped; let me not be confounded for ever), is the first verse of Psalm 70. This identical text is also placed as the last line in the Te Deum.