Biography - South Africa

Word must have reached Cape town of his abilities, for he was head-hunted for the joint posts of Professor, Dean of the Faculty of Music and Principal of the College of Music - for which he had unsuccessfully applied in 1939, and which had remained unfilled. His arrival created a stir. he sacked some of the staff and set about reinvigorating the entire department, in particular in reviving opera production.

It was an extraordinary opportunity. At last he was in command of an orchestra and had opportunities to conduct the Municipal Orchestra. His style was developing. The influence of the Far East lies behind his Hindustani Piano Concerto and the slow movement of his Violin Concerto was based on Rág Sohani and inspired by a Brahmin Hymn.

The Violin Concerto was premièred in Cape Town in 1952 by Szymon Goldberg and later that year at the Edinburgh International Festival with Max Rostal as soloist. Chisholm also brought many distinguished musicians to South Africa, including Eugene Goosens and Albert Coates. (In South Africa already).

But Chisholm never forgot his native Scotland and in his orchestral work Pictures from Dante he recycled music from his earlier ballet Piobaireachd matching it to images from Gustav Dore's illustration to Dante's Inferno.

Chisholm revelled in the Cape Town facilities - notably the University's Little Theatre which had been especially adapted for opera productions - for which he was able to compose operas in the knowledge that they would be performed.

Particularly successful were the one-act operas, Dark Sonnet and The Pardoners Tale - the latter a setting of Chaucer's middle English story of three rogues who are outwitted by an Old Man who turns out to be Death. The music for Dark sonnet, although not in strict 12-note style, is influenced by the Second Viennese School. It was composed in 14 scenes to match the sonnet form, while preserving Eugene O'Neill's Before Breakfast script. The Pardoner's Tale, by comparision, makes use of early mediaeval styles of music.

Illustration By Doré of Dante's Infernfo Canto XVII
Page 3 of Score of Pictures from Dante
Production of the one act opera Pardoner's Tale by University of Cape Town 2004
Production of the one act opera Dark Sonnet by University of Cape Town 2004
University of Cape Town campus and music school
Erik and family with Szymon Goldberg (centre)
Erik with Arthur Coates (centre) and Eugene Goosens in Cape Town 1952
Erik Chisholm and Szymon Goldberg in Cape Town 1952
Erik Chisholm with John Joubert during rehearsals for Joubert's opera Silas Marner at the Little Theatre at the University of Cape Town 1961