An influential music teacher

Florence Fitzgerald was a music teacher who lived in Hay Street, off Oriental Parade, in pre-World War II days. She was the first music teacher of Richard Farrell (1926-1958) who took lessons with her from the age of six until he was nine. Tragically, he died in a car accident in Britain in 1958 at only 31 years of age.

Richard Farrell, late 1950s. (Turnbull Library)

Richard Farrell, late 1950s. (Turnbull Library)

Richard Farrell has been described as New Zealand’s “greatest classical pianist”, achieving almost legendary status in his short career. While studying with Florence Fitzgerald as a child, he began to compose. At seven he played his own composition (a lament on the death of Archbishop Francis Redwood) with the Wellington Symphony Orchestra in a public concert.

His parents were not musicians but his uncle, John Farrell, was an actor and singer with J C Williamson Theatres. Richard Farrell attended St Mary’s Convent and St Patrick’s College – he was known affectionately as Junior Farrell at this time.

At 12 he moved to Sydney and studied at the NSW Conservatorium of Music for five years. The tenor Richard Tauber who was on an Australian tour at the time, offered him a European tour which Farrell couldn’t accept because World War II was looming.

Later he studied at the Juilliard School in New York, then toured the United States before returning to New Zealand and giving recitals round the country to great acclaim, including at the Wellington Town Hall. He moved to London in 1951 playing in the Royal Festival Hall and the Royal Albert Hall under famous conductors, including Sir Thomas Beecham, Sir Malcolm Sargent and Sir John Barbirolli.

He formed the Richard Farrell Piano Quartet and gave three seasons of chamber music concerts throughout Europe, later moving to Switzerland to prepare for a career as a conductor, his greatest ambition. But it was not to be: he died in a car accident in Sussex, UK, in May 1958.

If anyone has information on Florence Fitzgerald, we would love to hear from you in order to build a better picture of this music teacher who started Richard Farrell on his brilliant, but tragically short, career.

— Bay View newsletter 72, November 2018