The country’s most successful pianist, Geoffrey Tozer, has died at home in Melbourne, aged 54. A prolific, inquisitive artist, he tackled difficult and little-known works by Busoni, Medtner, Respighi and Roberto Gerhard, much of it undertaken on a ‘genius grant’ given somewhat controversially by the serving prime minister Paul Keating, whose son was Tozer’s pupil. Keating said later that he felt ‘ashamed’ to find an artist of Geoffrey’s talent had been reduced to teaching high school.
I met Geoffrey in Melbourne two years ago and we had a convivial chat, finding many points of agreement about the state of music in general and its Australian impoverishment in particular. He was good pianist and a good bloke, no vanity or falsity to him, the best possible advertisement for his art and his land. I am really sorry to hear of his passing, and depressed to find that only one Australian newspaper bothered to report it within three days.
If Tozer failed to get a firmer foothold on the international circuit, the failure was one of critical mass rather than personal merit. No Australian pianist since Percy Grainger has made it onto the leaderboard, and it always takes more than one to establish an innings. Tozer was batting alone, and in more ways than one.
Australia, so quick to back its sportsmen – even when they lose, as the cricketers have just honourably done in England – offers little moral or media support to those who choose music as a means of self-expression. Geoffrey was a great ambassador for his nation’s culture, Much of the time it must have felt to him as if his nation didn’t care.