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Don Banks

Don Banks
Donald Oscar Banks

25 October 1923
Died5 September 1990 (aged 66)
McMahons Point, New South Wales, Australia
OccupationMusic composer

Donald Oscar Banks (25 October 1923 – 5 September 1980) was an Australian composer of concert, jazz, and commercial music.

Early life and education

Jazz was Banks' earliest and strongest musical influence. He learned the saxophone as a boy in Australia and was proficient enough to be invited to play in the Graeme Bell band, then one of the finest outside America. He served with the Australian Army Medical Corps between 1941 and 1946 and began to study piano, harmony and counterpoint privately. He attended the University of Melbourne Conservatorium of Music for two years before moving to Europe in 1950.

In the UK he studied composition privately with Mátyás Seiber, who was himself much interested in jazz, from 1950 to 1952. He became a friend and associate of Gunther Schuller and was much involved with Tubby Hayes, writing several compositions for him. There were also periods of study in Salzburg with modernist Milton Babbitt and in Florence with the serialist composer Luigi Dallapiccola.


In the 1950s Banks was the secretary to Edward Clark, head of the London Contemporary Music Centre. He was chairman of the Society for the Promotion of New Music (SPNM) in 1967–68, and held several other posts in London whilst living in Purley, Surrey (at 16, Box Ridge Avenue). While in the UK during the 1960s his primary source of income came from scoring horror films produced by Hammer Studios, including Rasputin the Mad Monk, The Frozen Dead and The Mummy’s Shroud.

He returned to Australia in 1972, as Head of Composition and Electronic Music Studies at the Canberra School of Music. He remained there till 1977, then had a series of educational positions. In 1978 he was appointed Head of the School of Composition Studies at the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music.

He died at his home in the Sydney suburb of McMahons Point, after an eight-year battle with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. He left a widow, Valerie, and a son, Simon. The Don Banks Music Award, established in 1984, is funded by the Australia Council for the Arts.


Banks's regarded his opus 1 as the Violin Sonata of 1953, though there are earlier works, such as the piano Sonatina and a trio, both 1948. The Five North Country Folk Songs, also from 1953, clearly show the influence of Mátyás Seiber. His best-known concert works include the Sonata da Camera for flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, piano, percussion, violin, viola, and cello (1961, dedicated to Seiber); a Horn Concerto (1965, dedicated to and premiered by Barry Tuckwell); a Trio for horn, violin, and piano (1962); a Violin Concerto (1968), and Nexus, his major 'third stream' composition.

Banks scored 19 feature films, 22 documentaries and more than 60 episodes of various television serials. Nearly half of his film scores were for Hammer Films. Composer Douglas Gamley said that Banks "was a twelve-tone/serial composer who revelled in the opportunity to write abrasive and highly dissonant scores in an idiom akin to that of the late Schoenberg." Randall Larson has said that The Reptile (1968) is perhaps his best Hammer score. Banks also composed jazz scores for Hammer, including Hysteria (1964). He also worked regularly with Halas & Batchelor on cartoon films, scoring more than 70 shorts, advertisements and animated television series.


Orchestral works

  • Four Pieces for Orchestra (1953)
  • Coney Island (1961)
  • Elizabethan Miniatures (1962)
  • Horn Concerto (1965)
  • Assemblies (1966)
  • Violin Concerto (1968)
  • Intersections for Orchestra and Electronics (1969)
  • Prospects (1973)
  • Trilogy (1979)

Chamber and instrumental

  • Sonatina in c minor for piano (1948)
  • Trio for flute, violin and cello (1948)
  • Sonata for violin and piano (1953)
  • Three Studies for cello and piano (1954)
  • Pezzo Dramatico (1956) (for pianist Margaret Kitchin)
  • Sonata da Camera (1961)
  • Trio for horn, violin and piano (1962) (for Barry Tuckwell)
  • Prologue, Night Piece and Blues for Two for clarinet and piano (1968)
  • String Quartet (1975)


  • Five North Country Folk Songs (1953) (for soprano Sophie Weisse)
  • Tirade for mezzo-soprano and chamber ensemble (1968) (words, Peter Porter)

Third stream/crossover works

  • Equations I (1963) for jazz and chamber players
  • Meeting Place (1970) for jazz ensemble, symphony orchestra and synthesizer
  • Equations II for jazz and chamber players
  • Nexus (1971) for jazz quintet and symphony orchestra


Banks is credited for composing music in the following films:

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