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Story: Galway, Victor Edward

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Galway, Victor Edward


Organist, choirmaster, composer, music lecturer, broadcaster

This biography, written by John D. Drummond, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.

Victor Edward Gallway was born in Colchester, Essex, England, on 24 May 1894, the son of Edward Gallway, a bandmaster in the Northamptonshire Regiment, and his wife, Elizabeth Georgina Bilby. Victor was a choirboy in Northampton at the age of five and an organ pupil at 12. His secondary schooling was at the Ayr Academy, where he gained high marks, although music was not included in the curriculum. His organ playing under the tuition of Frederic Ely nevertheless impressed the composer and conductor Sir Frederick Bridge, who described Victor as ‘very keen’.

The family emigrated to Australia and in 1911 Gallway entered the University of Melbourne. Four years later he graduated MusB with honours, gaining various prizes, including the Ormond Exhibition in organ playing. His skills as an accompanist were also recognised. In 1922, by composing an organ sonata, writing a thesis on Gluck and giving an organ recital in the Melbourne Town Hall, he became the university’s first student to successfully complete the requirements for a MusD degree.

On 19 June 1917 at Red Hill, Brisbane, Victor married Janetta Constance Steele, whose family had farmed in Scotland; they were to have one daughter. By this time he had changed the spelling of his surname to ‘Galway’. After appointments in churches in Melbourne and Brisbane, he arrived with his wife in Dunedin in 1919 to take up the post of organist and choirmaster at the First Church of Otago. He remained in this position until 1939, when he moved to St Paul’s Cathedral.

In Dunedin Galway played an important and influential role in the community’s musical life at a time when local music-making and music education were beginning to be seriously measured against international standards. He conducted the Royal Dunedin Male Choir for 17 years and the Dunedin Choral Society for 10, directing both choirs and other local musicians in a concert performance of Handel’s Messiah in 1925 to open the new Dunedin Town Hall. He served as president of the Otago Society of Musicians from 1923 to 1929. In July the following year he was appointed city organist, a position he held for over 20 years. His regular recitals, whose programmes were eclectic, attracted huge audiences. He performed not only the classic organ works but also transcriptions – his version of Wagner’s The ride of the Valkyries was very popular – and he included other Dunedin musicians in his concerts.

In 1924 Galway began giving lectures at the University of Otago for the WEA. These were enthusiastically attended by up to 200 people and led to the establishment of the Music Department at the university in 1925 and his appointment as the first lecturer in music. In the 1930s and early 1940s he worked closely with Vernon Griffiths at Dunedin’s King Edward Technical College as a composer and accompanist, and during the Second World War he conducted the Otago University Musical Society, giving the city its first performances of works by Purcell and Elgar. In 1939 he became the first Blair professor of music. Galway also served the university as dean of the Faculty of Arts and as vice chairman of the professorial board. For many years he was the organising professor of music for the University of New Zealand, establishing honours degrees in music and securing the inclusion of music in the list for Junior Scholarships.

Galway followed an English tradition of music education which combined reverence for the master works of the Europeans, from Bach to Mendelssohn, with a sense of service to the community through music-making and public education. His conservative tastes sometimes conflicted with contemporary styles. In 1948 he vehemently disagreed with the marking standards at Victoria University College, and insisted that his students – who had included Frank Callaway, John Ritchie and John Matheson – model themselves on the classics. He is remembered as a caring and successful, but demanding, teacher. Alongside his organ recitals his public lectures, which continued through the 1930s and 1940s, became a notable feature of Dunedin’s musical life, as did his educational radio broadcasts on 4YA.

Galway’s church compositions, which include a fine Magnificat and other smaller works for mixed choir, and which are written in an approachable and undemanding idiom, were still performed in the 1990s. Several of his pieces were published by Oxford University Press, and three others can be found in The dominion song book No 13.

After suffering a stroke in 1954 Galway retired from the University of Otago as emeritus professor on his 61st birthday, and moved to Waimate in South Canterbury. In 1957 he was awarded the prestigious Margaret Condliffe Memorial Prize by Canterbury University College for ‘creative achievement of marked distinction’. Victor Galway died at Cherry Farm Hospital, near Dunedin, on 9 July 1960, survived by his daughter. His wife had died in September 1949. A genial, optimistic and enthusiastic man, his eulogy honoured his ability to pass on to his students something of his own intense devotion to music.

How to cite this page:

John D. Drummond. 'Galway, Victor Edward', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5g3/galway-victor-edward (accessed 25 June 2024)