After initial studies at Melbourne University where he was to have read law, Murdoch won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music and moved to London in 1906. After four years of study he made his London debut in 1910 and was ready to embark on a career as a touring pianist which took him to South Africa in 1911, followed by Australia and New Zealand during 1912 and 1913. In 1914, having made his first appearances in America and Canada, he volunteered for active service in World War I, but was deemed unfit. Instead, in 1917 he was sent to Scandinavia on artistic propaganda work where, after the war, he made four more tours. It was in London that he made his home and where he formed musical partnerships with chamber instrumentalists of the day, particularly Albert Sammons, Arthur Catterall, Lionel Tertis and W. H. Squire. In 1919 he took part in the first performance of Elgar’s Piano Quintet. From 1930 to 1936 he taught at the Royal Academy of Music in London and at this time published two books, one on Brahms for the centenary year of 1933 and another on the life of Chopin in 1934. Murdoch was a modest man and never sought the life of a famous virtuoso. His death came at the untimely age of fifty-four.
Most of Murdoch’s records were made for Columbia. He began to record in the acoustic era: encore pieces, movements from trios with Squire and Catterall; also the first commercial recording of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 Op. 37 with Hamilton Harty. Murdoch did not like the recording studio and many of his electrical recordings were made in an empty Wigmore Hall. He felt that one of his best records was of Chopin’s Ballade in A flat Op. 47 and at the time of its release (1928) his touch was compared to that of Vladimir de Pachmann. Murdoch disliked Liszt’s music but admired the man; he did, however, record Liszt’s La Campanella. He regarded Busoni as the greatest Liszt performer of his day and Rachmaninov as one of the greatest pianists. The major works he recorded for solo piano are by Beethoven, his ‘Pathétique’ and ‘Appassionata’ Sonatas. Murdoch’s performances have fast tempi and tight rhythms and a clarity that he also displays in his Chopin playing. He said that although Beethoven performances needed iron, they should not be merely rugged or rough.
Murdoch is represented on disc by much chamber music and he is perhaps remembered more in this field rather than as a soloist. Successful recordings of the Elgar Violin Sonata and Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata Op. 47 (with Catterall), the Tchaikovsky Trio, and an adaptation of the Mendelssohn C minor Trio all show his sensitivity and affinity for chamber music. In the ‘Archduke’ Trio, where he is joined by Sammons and Squire, we are treated to a genial gathering of friends playing some of their favourite music. Also of note are six ten-inch discs he made of test pieces for the Daily Express National Piano Playing Contests in 1927. Not only does he perform works by John Ireland, York Bowen and Alec Rowley, but he also comments on them.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).