Dorothy Ida Davies was born at River Bank, Whanganui, on 24 October 1899, the child of English-born parents David Davies, an engineer, and his wife, Martha Naomi Oakden. Dorothy was the seventh of eight children and the only daughter. Her passion for music was evident at an early age. Before she was four she could play by ear the songs her brothers were taught at school, and soon after began her first piano lessons. David and Martha Davies encouraged the musical talents of their children. The sound of the slow movements of Beethoven sonatas being played in the family drawing room, and of her brothers playing stringed instruments together, made a deep and lasting impression on the young girl.
While still at primary school Dorothy announced that she wished to study with Sophia Redwood, music mistress at Whanganui Girls' College. Her father was unwilling, because of the fees. Supported by her brothers, Dorothy issued an ultimatum: ‘if you don't let me go to Mrs Redwood I won't do any more housework’. Lessons commenced, and she remained Sophia Redwood’s pupil until she left the college. From 1915 to 1918 she performed at school concerts and won music prizes.
After leaving school, Dorothy Davies continued to study music while teaching privately, and in 1920 gained her ATCL and licentiate of the Associated Board. In 1924 she entered the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music in Sydney to undertake their five-year course based on chamber music. She completed the course in four years, winning the coveted Yvonne Charvin prize. The conservatorium awarded her its teacher's diploma.
In 1928 the Radio Broadcasting Company of New Zealand appointed her musical librarian and pianist for the Christchurch Broadcasting Trio. With Hal and Irene Beck she performed live on station 3YA four nights a week. The trio had orders not to play ‘highbrow stuff’ more than once a week, and even then faced criticism from listeners for mentioning opus numbers and using musical terms. The arrival in Christchurch in 1929 of Otto and Tilli Frankel from Vienna enabled Davies to have German lessons and to play at Tilli Frankel's monthly salon.
In January 1931, having saved £100, she sailed for London to further her studies at the Royal College of Music under Frederick Jackson, the great Bach exponent, and Arthur Alexander. She earned extra money as pianist for the Ballet Rambert and playing jazz for a physical culture club. When Davies took over the studio of fellow New Zealander Vera Moore, she was able to buy her Steinway grand. She became an associate of the Royal College of Music in 1933, achieving third place for the whole of England.
The greatest influence on Davies’s musical development was the Austrian pianist and teacher Artur Schnabel. She knew his playing from recordings and after a London concert went backstage to ask if he would teach her. After auditioning at his home at Tremezzo, on Lake Como, Italy, she was invited to join his master classes. Schnabel's teaching was an education in style, thinking in long and short phrases, stressed and unstressed notes, considering the relative meaning of dynamic markings. Praise was sparing but inspiration unceasing; she felt musically reborn in these classes, whether listening or performing. She was able to eke out her slender financial resources by playing accompaniments for his wife, Therese Behr, a singer and teacher, who introduced her to lieder.
By the end of 1938 the Schnabels were forced by anti-semitism to leave Italy and in 1939 embarked on an Australian concert tour, Dorothy Davies acting as Therese Behr's accompanist. The Schnabels also made a brief visit to New Zealand. Soon after returning to New Zealand Davies gave a recital in Whanganui where she was given an enthusiastic welcome.
Davies was a strong, handsome woman, with great energy. She had been convinced that she would never marry, but met Reuel Anson Lochore, a government translator, who had recently returned from doctoral studies in Germany. A quiet civil wedding took place at Wellington on 12 January 1940. They were well matched, and supportive of each other's aspirations. They had no children of their own, but later adopted a son and fostered others.
Dorothy Davies became well known over the next decade. Her friendship with John Schroder of the New Zealand Broadcasting Service enabled her to broadcast all the major Bach works and the complete Schubert and Beethoven sonatas. She established a studio in Porirua where she taught many prominent pianists and conducted piano seminars for advanced students. Although Davies was authoritative and temperamental, her irrepressible good humour put nervous students at ease as they presented a major piano work for discussion and analysis.
The decision to form a trio with Erika Schorss (violin) and Marie Vandewart (cello) was encouraged by John Beaglehole, who undertook to sponsor and manage it. The Dorothy Davies Trio travelled throughout the country giving recitals, often in small towns where chamber music was rarely heard. Davies had her limitations, having had difficulty acquiring a good piano technique during her early training. Eventually, muscular problems with her left hand led her to concentrate on teaching.
In 1950 she organised a series of 20 lecture recitals on Beethoven; there were also lecture recitals with violinist Alex Lindsay, music and poetry evenings with Maria Dronke, and recitals at the Nelson School of Music. Teaching at the Cambridge Summer School of Music, based on performance as well as tutorial, led to the idea of holding master classes. The Porirua Music School was established, and for many years students were stimulated by her original ideas and infectious enthusiasm. With Sister Mary Winefride she organised lieder classes to study in detail all the classical repertoire as well as Wolf, Fauré and Debussy. She was a great admirer of Douglas Lilburn and in 1950, concerned at the lack of interest in new music, Dorothy Davies, Frederick Page, and violinist Francis Rosner formed a New Zealand branch of the International Society for Contemporary Music.
Dorothy Davies began studying Indian classical music when her husband, now a diplomat with the Department of External Affairs, was posted to India in 1962. Later in Indonesia she gifted an entire band of anklung (long bamboo stringed instruments) to Hamilton Teachers’ College, which had requested one piece. In 1966 Reuel Lochore was appointed New Zealand's first ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany. They stepped into an environment they both understood; guests at their house concerts were astonished and delighted to find the great classical piano works and lieder performed.
They returned to New Zealand in 1969. In 1971, on the 20th anniversary of Schnabel's death, Dorothy was invited to Sydney by the Australian Society for Keyboard Music to give the memorial address. On her 75th birthday she gave a recital at the Auckland City Art Gallery. In 1978 she was invited to Brisbane and in 1980 took part in a week of classes in Melbourne. She was still playing at 80, when a reviewer remarked that her playing was full of vitality and her teaching as exciting as ever. At the 90th anniversary celebrations of Whanganui Girls' College, she played Debussy on the piano she had used as a schoolgirl. Her services to music had been recognised in 1975 when she was made an MBE. During the 1950s she had also served on the Mākara County Council and as a justice of the peace.
Dorothy Davies died at Whangaparāoa on 11 July 1987, survived by her husband. A memorial service was held in Wellington, where friends and colleagues recalled her inspirational teaching and colourful personality, and her students played Schubert and Beethoven sonatas. She had been ‘a public possession almost all her life’.