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Sad news from Australia

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.

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Comments

  1. Norman,
    I agree that Geoffrey Tozer was one of Australia’s finest pianists and that his passing leaves us all the poorer.
    I disagree though that he was “batting alone”. It has to be acknowledged that pianistic comparisons between Australia and its Commonwealth cousin, Canada, tend to favour the latter – I can’t think of an Australian pianist who has the cult following of a Gould, a Hewitt or a Hamelin. That said, we do have some excellent pianists who deserve more than a little respect and acclaim.
    Three examples that come immediately to mind are:
    1. Piers Lane – this chap can play anything, and often does. His superb recordings for EMI and Hyperion sepak more eloquently than I can for his qualities. Lane is also an exceptional partner in Lieder. Just ask Peter Coleman-Wright or Cheryl Barker.
    2. Leslie Howard – has anyone else played more Liszt?
    3. Ian Munro – like, Lane, a versatile and widely recorded pianist. Also a Leeds Competition stand-out and a highly respected all-round musician.

  2. While Tozer’s personal story was tragic, there are a number of post-Grainger Aussie pianists who have done rather well:
    Geoffrey Douglas Madge
    Eileen Joyce
    Roger Woodward
    Geoffrey Lancaster
    Noel Mewtown-Wood
    Ian Munro
    Piers Lane
    Geoffrey Parsons
    Stephanie McCallum
    Bruce Hungerford
    Leslie Howard
    Michael Kieran Harvey
    ….
    Others who adopted it as their country were very notable:
    Isador Goodman
    Stephen Hough

  3. Sad news – a fine artist.
    “No Australian pianist since Percy Grainger has made it onto the leaderboard”
    Bit harsh on Eileen Joyce…

  4. Agreed. It should come as no surprise but it nevertheless pains me that the Age has so far ignored the tragic death of one of Melbourne’s — Australia’s — greatest talents. I note that the death of a local rock band bass player gets headline treatment:
    http://www.theage.com.au/news/entertainment/music/magic-dirt-bass-player-dies/2009/08/24/1251001839367.html
    Condolences to Dean Turner’s friends and family but really, where’s the perspective?
    At least the ‘Australian’ is preparing an obituary, to be published next Tuesday.

  5. This was very sad news to learn. I knew about Geoffrey Tozer–I believe through his being in the Leeds Competition many years ago. He deserved greater worldwide recognition and career on that level. Too often, we carve a niche as artists and our country, our world, does not recognize what we do, rather, they steer their attention to other avenues. This is an unfortunate reality. Perhaps, in the least, recordings of Geoffrey Tozer will be respected and heard more frequently, which, after the fact, cannot serve his living career anymore, but can save his name and great talents from falling between the cracks of society.

  6. I only learned of Geoffrey Tozer’s death today and was rather saddened as I think he was a brilliant pianist. I heard him play a few years ago as part of his 40 year anniversary tour. Another great Aussie resident musician, Jan Sedivka (born in Czechoslovakia) died yesterday….I hope someone remembers him too. He was my violin teacher for two years at the Tasmanian conservatorium. An exceptional player & visionary, who fostered the art of string playing like no one else I know in this part of the world.

  7. Simon J Harper says:

    As Tacitus said, isolated people are ignorant and violent.

  8. No doubt, this big loss to Australian art work industry…I agreed. Geoffrey Tozer was one of top experience and talented Australian artist.

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