Page 1: Biography
Rudolph, Henry Joseph
Watch repairer, musician, choirmaster, music director
This biography, written by Peter Downes, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.
Born in London on 18 January 1902, Henry Joseph Rudolph was the son of Emma Dilger and her husband, Henry Joseph Rudolph, a master hairdresser. He was educated at a college in Farnborough and learned the violin and piano from the age of five. As a teenager he had pipe organ lessons and played the flugelhorn with a youth brass band. His mother died in 1918 and in 1920 his German-born father, who had earlier settled in New Zealand, sent for Henry and his brother and sister to join him. They made their home in Eastbourne.
In 1921 Rudolph began learning the craft of watchmaking in Wellington and later worked on contract as a watch repairer for Stewart, Dawson and Company. He married Kathleen Mary McGlinchey on 4 February 1929 in St Patrick’s Church, Kilbirnie; they were to have one daughter. In 1941 he set up a one-man watch-repair business which he conducted until his death.
Rudolph’s abiding passion was for music performance and he devoted most of his leisure time to it. In 1924 he formed his first group, a four-piece dance band, in which he played piano, saxophone and clarinet. He was a pioneer broadcaster and he and his players contributed programmes to the early Wellington radio stations 2YB and 2YK in the mid 1920s. This began an association with radio that continued throughout his life.
A succession of Henry Rudolph dance bands played in Wellington during the 1920s and 1930s at the St Francis Hall, the Adelphi Cabaret and Brougham Street Assembly Hall. A strong interest in arranging popular music for female voices resulted in the formation in 1937 of the Swing Time Harmonists, the first of several small singing groups which became widely known over the years through many radio broadcasts.
During the Second World War he led an orchestra for monthly broadcasts of old-time dance music and was also appointed musical director of the 2YA Camp Concert Party. This ensemble appeared regularly at military establishments in the Wellington area and in 1944 entertained troops in New Caledonia. Three years later Rudolph took a six-member concert party to perform for Jayforce in Japan, and in 1954 he headed a similar group that travelled to military centres in Korea and Japan.
In 1950 he began a 10-year term as musical director for the Wellington Operatic and Theatrical Society. He conducted the society in performances from The merry widow in 1950 to The vagabond king in 1959. In 1958 he formed the first of the young women’s choirs that were to occupy his musical talents for the next 19 years. The 40-member Henry Rudolph Girls’ Choir, modelled on the Luton Girls’ Choir, gave a performance at the 1961 Festival of Wellington. The membership was soon reduced to around 20 voices, however, and as the Henry Rudolph Singers the group became a popular attraction and made its first overseas tour to Fiji and Samoa in 1966. Later the size and style were varied to relate more closely to changing entertainment trends. For this, as with each of his earlier groups, Rudolph wrote all the vocal and backing arrangements. As well as performing throughout New Zealand and making many broadcasts and a number of recordings, more concerts were given in Fiji and visits were also made to Sydney and Brisbane. The Singers gave their final performance in 1978.
Somewhat short in stature, and always full of bustling, cheerful energy, Rudolph invariably appeared to be in a good humour, and he worked tirelessly to motivate his performers. Through the public performances and broadcasts of his various groups he brought pleasure to many thousands for more than half a century. Although known principally for this work, a hobby, cultivating orchids, also brought him into prominence. In 1974 his services to music were recognised when he was appointed an MBE. He died in Eastbourne on 7 May 1984, survived by his wife and daughter.