Iconoclast Mary Brahe’s Home

Though I covered Mary Brahe in Sisters in Song, I gave her only a cursory glance.  I hope to remedy this.  Mary Dickson was born in East Melbourne, Australia in 1884 to an Australian cordial manufacturer and his Scottish wife.  Her mother Margaret taught piano to May, as she was known.  Alas, the mother died when May was 12, and three years later, she had to leave school due to economic hardship and earn a living teaching piano.  All the while, she continued to take private lessons with other more accomplished musicians.  After marrying Frederick Brahe in 1903 when she was 19, she continued to pursue her music career, playing, writing and publishing her compositions.  Her publishers encouraged her to go to London to further her status as a composer.  In a move unusual for the time, she left her three young children with her husband and grandmother and went to London in 1912.  By 1914, she earned enough to visit Australia and bring her family to England.   In 1919, soon after returning from service in World War I, Frederick Brahe was killed in an auto accident.    Three years later, she married fellow Australian, George Morgan with whom she had a daughter.  She finally returned to Melbourne, Australia in 1939 living well from song royalties.  She was in fact the only Australian woman composer to win international recognition before World War II.

 

Her publishers arranged regular concerts of her songs and ballads.  After the original publishers were bought out by another firm, she was one the few composers they paid on an annual retainer.  She continued to publish over 400 songs.   They were often published under one of nine pseudonyms.  This was necessary as most publishers didn‘t want to publish more than four songs of any one writer in a year.  She worked with many lyricists, but was most successful with Englishwoman Helen Taylor, her favorite collaborator in both songs and in two of her three musicals.  In addition to the songs and musicals, she wrote two operettas for children.   It was with Taylor that she wrote “Bless This House” which was originally published as “Bless the House” in 1927. Tenor John McCormack changed the title to the one we know today.  This melodic and sentimental song became famous over the world and has been recorded by the likes of Jan Peerce, Doris Day, Perry Como, and Leontyne Price among many others.  It seems ironic that the woman who composed a song in praise of the God-centered family home was brave enough to leave family for two years to pursue a career in a still Victorian influenced age.