William Pickerill

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William Pickerill (1892-1955) Musician, composer, conductor


William Joseph Pickerill was born on 6 March 1892 in Nottingham. He was educated at the Roman Catholic cathedral of St Barnabas where his father was Director of Music. At eight, he became a member of the Cathedral choir and received a wide music education. ence for conducting. Pickerill furthered his studies at the Royal Manchester College of Music. After the completion of his studies, he joined various orchestras as a bassoonist: the Castellano Italian Opera Company, the Bath Municipal Orchestra, the D’Oyly-Carte Opera Company (famous for their performances of Gilbert and Sullivan operas at the Savoy Theatre), and the Hallé Orchestra.

In January 1914, Pickerill became a founder member of the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra with his appointment as first bassoonist by the Cape Town City Council. In September 1921, Pickerill was appointed as assistant conductor under Theo Wendt. In February 1927, Pickerill took over as principal conductor. He was appointed on a permanent basis from the beginning of September 1927. He retired in 1946.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

Together with John Connell and Alessandro Rota, William Pickerill founded the National Opera Company in 1940. In 1941, he shared the position of Vice-President of the Cape Town Gilbert and Sullivan Society with two other Vice-Presidents, namely, Dr Erik Chisholm and Mr W.M. Davidson.

As conductor

In May 1929, Pickerill made his debut as opera conductor with Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, produced under the auspices of the SACM, at the Opera House in Parliament Street. William Pickerill subsequently conducted several operas, including alongside producer, Guiseppe Paganelli. Operas include Cavalleria Rusticana, The Bartered Bride, Aida, La Traviata, I Pagliacci, Rigoletto, Madame Butterfly and Faust.

He conducted Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers as well as The Mikado for the Durban Municipal Choral and Light Opera Society.

As composer

Pickerill also composed the music for two musicals, The Mill of Youth (libretto by Archibald J.A. Wilson and Walter Swanson) and Oh, Boy! (again written by Archibald J.A. Wilson). He also composed incidental music for the plays, The Maker of Dreams and Prunella.

As actor

Pickerill was also a keen amateur actor and was part of the cast of Everyman, produced by Wilhelmina Freund, Head of the Department of Speech Training at the SACM from 1912. Another example of his participation on stage was in the 1935 performance of Bell’s one-act comic opera, The Wandering Scholar.


Pickerill was nominated Honorary Member of the Royal College of Music in 1935 and of the Royal Academy of Music in 1937. In March 1936, he received honorary membership of the RCM and Trinity Colleges of Music. In December 1941, UCT conferred an honorary Doctorate on Pickerill.


Hilde Roos. 2012. 'Indigenisation and history: how opera in South Africa became South African opera'. Acta Academica Supplementum. 2012(1).

Sjoerd Alkema. 2012. "Conductors of the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra, 1914-1965: a historical perspective". University of Cape Town. Unpublished PhD thesis.

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