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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Seidel, Waldemar Carl (1893–1980)

by Peter John Tregear

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Waldemar Carl Seidel (1893-1980), pianist and music teacher, was born on 11 March 1893 at St Kilda, Melbourne, eldest of three children of Alfred Carl Seidel, a German-born pianist and choral conductor, and his Victorian-born wife Susan Ann, née Miller. A graduate of the Royal Conservatorium of Music, Leipzig, Alfred had migrated to Australia at the age of 19. Wally was educated at Xavier College, Kew. He received his early piano lessons from his father and became the protégé of J. Alfred Johnstone, a well-known teacher and author of piano-tutors. Seidel received additional training from Benno Scherek—with whom he also studied the art of accompaniment—and from Edward Goll.

On his departure for England in 1924, Johnstone turned over his entire teaching practice to Seidel, who hired a room in the music warehouse of W. H. Glen & Co. Pty Ltd, Collins Street, and combined teaching with work as a professional accompanist. He toured with such performers as Amy Castles and Stella Power. At the Presbyterian Church, St Kilda, on 10 January 1925 he married Irene Olive Zoe Barlow, a 19-year-old milliner. That year he was appointed to the staff of the Albert Street Conservatorium, East Melbourne. His touring career over, teaching became his 'chief aim and ambition in life'. He supplemented his income by selling pianos and gramophones. The notable success of his students prompted Professor (Sir) Bernard Heinze to appoint him to the staff of the University Conservatorium in 1931.

In a golden age of piano-teaching in Melbourne, Seidel stood apart from his colleagues for resolutely imposing no particular school of pianism upon his pupils. Instead he strove to develop the technical and interpretative individuality of each student, regardless of ability. He published his views in 1931 in the Australian Musical News. Those who studied under him and went on to establish prominent careers included Don Banks, Phyllis Batchelor, May Clifford, Douglas Gamley, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Bernice Lehmann, Noel Mewton-Wood and Margaret Schofield. Seidel also became adept at teaching blind pianists, a skill he passed on to others.

For Seidel, music was at root a spiritual activity, but one associated with no particular doctrine. Although he had been baptized a Lutheran, organized religion of any kind did not sit well with a pedagogical philosophy based on the primacy of independent thinking. His few interests, outside music and family life, included the Savage Club (member 1932-66) and Freemasonry. Following a serious motorcar accident in 1937, he took up golf and it quickly became an abiding passion. At work and at home he cut a cultured, if unobtrusive, figure of almost unshakeably affable temperament. Essentially a very private man, he had few close friends but was well liked by his colleagues. He retired from the conservatorium in 1974 and taught privately for the rest of his life. Survived by his wife and their two sons, he died on 17 September 1980 at Malvern and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • P. J. Tregear, The Conservatorium of Music University of Melbourne (Melb, 1997)
  • Australian Musical News, Apr 1924, p 19, Mar 1931, p 17
  • Music and the Teacher, Dec 1980
  • private information.

Citation details

Peter John Tregear, 'Seidel, Waldemar Carl (1893–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 23 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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