KEATS, HORACE STANLEY (1895-1945), composer and accompanist, was born on 20 July
1895 at Mitcham, Surrey, England, son of Charles William Keats, commercial
traveller, and his wife Mary, née Clifford. He was a boy soprano at the Oratory,
Brompton Road, South Kensington, and briefly learned the piano, but ran away to
sea aged 13 and worked as a ship's pianist. He returned to England after the
outbreak of World War I in 1914 to enlist in the army, but was rejected for poor
eyesight. Engaged as an accompanist by a singer, Nella Webb, on her tour of
American and Pacific variety theatres, he arrived in Sydney with her in 1915.
View the full record at
Australian Dictionary of Biography
Horace Keats came to Australia in 1915 as accompanist to Nella Webb, a well-known vaudeville performer. Whilst in Australia he accompanied Ella Caspers, an Australian contralto, and the bass baritone, Peter Dawson, who both prevailed upon him to stay in Australia as their accompanist. In 1916, as director of the orchestra for several films produced by D W Griffiths, he travelled throughout Australia and New Zealand. Between 1917 and 1920 he was orchestral pianist and conductor for several operas directed by Count Filippini.
During the 1920s he and his wife, soprano, Janet le Brun Brown, broadcast regularly from 2FC (later to become part of the ABC) and so commenced a long broadcasting career. Keats conducted the original 2FC orchestra founded in 1924, which was later to become the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. In 1925 he was engaged by 2BL as accompanist and leader of many of the studio's ensemble groups. On 5 September 1927 under his leadership the orchestra broadcast the "Empire Broadcast Programme", the first short-wave length broadcast to BBC London, and later to Canada, India, South Africa and the USA. In July 1929 the ABC was formed which included 2FC and 2BL being taken under its banner. Except for a short break in 1930 when he returned to England to work for the BBC as a conductor, he remained in association with ABC until just before his death. As the original musical director and conductor of the numerous instrumental ensembles used for broadcasting, he arranged a considerable amount of music to accommodate the limited capacity of the broadcasting equipment. This experience and that of accompanying a vast range of singers for many years enhanced his innate abilities as a composer.
From 1933, when Keats seriously began composing, he wrote over a hundred and twenty works. During his latter years many of his songs were accepted for publication and recorded within weeks of their completion. In 1934 he saw an opportunity, both in Australia and overseas, to bring the work of Australian poets to a wider audience by setting their poems to music. He became such a specialist in this area that he was known as the "poet's composer". Hugh McCrae, Kenneth Mackenzie and Christopher Brennan were among some of these poets. From 1936 he commenced a series of settings of Brennan's poems, to which he had been granted exclusive rights during his lifetime, and these were regarded as some of his finest compositions. Most of Keats' works were written as songs for both piano and instrumental accompaniment. However, there were some notable exceptions when he wrote scores for some of the early Australian films, including Lovers and Luggers, and a number of radio plays that were performed both in Australia and overseas. Amongst other works for orchestra he composed a setting of John Keats' poem, La Belle Dame sans Merci for Harold Williams.
He died of a cerebral haemorrhage at his home in Mosman.