In 1885 Francis Ormond offered £20,000 to found a chair of Music provided the University raised £3,000 from other sources. By 1887 the terms had been met and the £4,700 raised was available for founding scholarships. In 1890 George W. Marshall-Hall was appointed to the Ormond Chair of Music and, 'aware that a school of music which taught only theory would remain a cultural extravagance', he set about organising a Conservatorium of Music for practical teaching with W. A. Laver.
The Conservatorium opened in 1895 in rented rooms opposite the Carlton Gardens and by 1899 it could boast 150 students. Professor Marshall-Hall also founded a fine orchestra, beginning the tradition of the university's involving itself closely in the provision of high quality musical performances for the general public. Then, towards the end of the century, he became embroiled in controversy and was replaced in 1900 by F.S. Peterson.
Marshall-Hall successfully continued the Conservatorium as a rival institution and Peterson had to make do with conducting classes in the former National Museum building until 1909 when the first section of the Conservatorium of Music facing Royal Parade was built. Melba Hall, so named for the distinguished singer who organised the fund-raising, was opened in 1914 and the north wing, funded by Sir George Tallis, was added in 1926-27.
On the death of Peterson in 1914, the University invited Marshall-Hall back as professor in 1914, but he did not live long to enjoy the restoration of his reputation. He was succeeded in 1915 by William A. Laver, the young prodigy who had helped establish the original conservatorium.
In 1935, a new south wing, named for Marshall-Hall and funded by Ivy and Herbert Brookes was completed, but the obvious need for new and larger accommodation saw planning for a new building in the 1960s which has still to come to fruition.