BRAHE, MARY HANNAH (MAY) (1884-1956), composer, was born on 6 November 1884 at
East Melbourne, daughter of Richard Dickson, Melbourne-born cordial manufacturer,
and his wife Margaret, née Dickson, formerly of Glasgow, Scotland. May, as she was
known, was taught piano by her mother, and continued her studies at Stratherne
Girls' School, Hawthorn. When May was 12 her mother died, and three years later,
when her father's business faltered, she left school to earn a living teaching
piano. She took private lessons, first with Mona McBurney, who taught her
accompanying, and then with the singer Alice Rebotarro, whose training in vocal
technique later helped her to compose songs that were easy to sing.
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Australian Dictionary of Biography
May Brahe was a highly prolific Australian songwriter. Of the five hundred or more songs she composed, two hundred and ninety were published, two hundred and forty eight under her own name.
Brahe learnt to play the piano from her mother, and later continued her studies at Stratherne Girls' School, Hawthorn. After her mother died and her father's business failed, she left school at age fifteen to earn a living teaching piano. At the same time she took piano and composition lessons with Mona McBurney (1862-1932) and singing with Alice Rebotarro, and began writing songs.
In 1912, at the suggestion of her publishers Allan and Co., Brahe moved to London to establish herself internationally as a composer. She left her two young sons in the care of her husband and their paternal grandmother, returning to take them to England in 1914. She remained there until 1939. During the years 1916-26, when she was contracted to Enoch and Sons, Brahe published under eight pseudonymns. She claimed that using these other names allowed her more frequent publication - publishers were reluctant to publish more than four of her songs in a year.
Brahe's most famous composition, Bless This House, was popularised in the 1930s by Irish tenor John McCormack. Brahe was admired by singers such as Peter Dawson and Nellie Melba. However, she composed the majority of her work with amateur performers in mind, among whom there was a high demand for simple, familiar-sounding ballads. Her success is largely ascribed to the extent she catered to 'middle-brow' tastes in music. Her lyricists, which included Helen Taylor and Dorothea Mackellar, supported this by providing appealing, sentimental rhymes.
After returning to Australia in 1939, Brahe lived in semi-retirement and continued to compose, and lecture on her career. She was able to live comfortably from the royalties that her many songs attracted in printing, reprinting, and recording.