Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by Timothy McKenry, Professor of Music, Australian Catholic University

How could one of the best pianists Australia has ever produced die lonely, neglected and impoverished in a dilapidated house in suburban Melbourne?

The Eulogy, a documentary written and directed by Janine Hosking examines the life, career and tragic death of Australian concert pianist Geoffrey Tozer, who passed away aged 54 from liver disease.

The film begins with Paul Keating reading the now-infamous eulogy he delivered at Tozer’s memorial almost exactly a decade ago. The speech, which starts out as a celebration of the pianist’s life and achievements, culminates in an attack on Australia’s cultural establishment.

Keating speaks of the arts in Australia as riven with “bitchiness and preference” and “inverted snobbery”. He accuses the Melbourne and Sydney Symphony Orchestras of treating Tozer with “indifference and contempt” and suggests the people “who had charge in the selection of artists during this period should hang their heads in shame”.

the life and lonely death of one of Australia's greatest pianists Tozer has been called one of Australia’s greatest pianists. Madman

The late conductor and music educator Richard Gill (who never saw Tozer perform) acts as a first-person narrator for the film as he tries to make sense of Tozer’s legacy and evaluate Keating’s claims.

Gill’s discovery of Tozer is intercut with archival footage of performances and the film’s soundtrack makes extensive use of Tozer’s many recordings. Discussions with friends, family and colleagues together with readings of Tozer’s diary and correspondence draw a sympathetic portrait of the virtuoso musician.

Charming animations guide the film’s audience around the diverse locales of Tozer’s life story. These places range from pre-partition India, Tasmania, Melbourne, London, Canberra (where he first met Paul Keating) to a disastrous misadventure in Queanbeyan in NSW where Tozer tried unsuccessfully to convert a convent building into a music conservatory.

Animated graphics punctuate the film.

Suburban Melbourne becomes a visual metaphor for Tozer’s ignominy, with images and descriptions of his final dilapidated house intercut with explorations of the Tozer archive – a repository lovingly curated, but nevertheless located in little more than a converted shed.

Video footage of Tozer being interviewed reveals a softly spoken and clearly insular man who struggled with the burden of expectation placed on child prodigies. The film offsets a sense of indignation at the purported neglect Tozer suffered with a compassionate account of his personal struggles and alcoholism. Keating’s claims are not allowed to stand untested and a picture emerges of a talented musical genius with limited life skills.

The film raises important questions about the significance of Tozer in our cultural canon, the duty of care held by Australia’s cultural institutions, and the precarious and vexing nature of talent.

the life and lonely death of one of Australia's greatest pianists Conductor Richard Gill narrates the film and his own discovery of Tozer’s legacy. Madman

The audience is left in no doubt Tozer was indeed a world-class musician. Gill’s journey comes to a climax when – by candlelight in that Queanbeyan convent building – he listens for the first time to Tozer’s performance of a concerto by the Russian composer Nikolai Medtner.

Tozer’s advocacy for and recordings of this previously almost unknown Russian master are widely praised and stand as one of his greatest achievements. The film’s presentation of this recording highlights Tozer’s extraordinary artistry. By staging the scene at the convent, the filmmakers juxtapose a musical triumph with his personal failure.

In its interrogation of Keating’s accusations against the Australian arts establishment, the film delves into the tragedy of Tozer’s personal life. It argues Tozer’s mother – with a combination of hot-housing, impossible expectations and lifelong codependency – denied him a normal childhood. This meant the pianist, following his mother’s death, could not deal with the adult world and used alcohol to cope.

A compassionate examination of what appears to be Tozer’s only romantic relationship – albeit a short one – gives the audience insight into the extent of his personal dysfunction.

Tozer at the piano a few years before his death.

The neglect Tozer suffered from Australia’s leading orchestras in the last 15 years of his life comes across less as “inverted snobbery” or the Tall Poppy Syndrome, but the stark reality of the requirements of working in any creative profession.

Orchestras schedule concerts two years in advance and must necessarily work with musicians they can rely on. Though clearly a genius, Tozer ultimately lacked the personal stability essential to success in the arts.

In searching for an antagonist and settling on Tozer’s mother, the film misses an opportunity to interrogate Western culture’s awkward relationship with notions of talent.

Although educationalists tout ideas of a growth mindset and the notion talent is not fixed, research into musical prodigies affirms genetics, a singular focus and a specialised educational environment are often a prerequisite to a talent like Tozer’s.

We can’t reasonably laud Tozer as a prodigy and musical genius while also casting his mother (who was also his first piano teacher) as a villain.

The Eulogy is an engaging and ultimately evenhanded evaluation of the life of a great Australian musician and a complex personality. As one of Richard Gill’s many former students myself, the death of the film’s narrator in October last year made the film still more poignant.

The Eulogy opens in cinemas today.

Authors: Timothy McKenry, Professor of Music, Australian Catholic University

Read more http://theconversation.com/the-eulogy-review-the-life-and-lonely-death-of-one-of-australias-greatest-pianists-124164

Writers Wanted

Not feeling motivated to tackle those sneaky COVID kilos? Try these 4 healthy eating tips instead

arrow_forward

Sydney Festival review: The Rise and Fall of Saint George shows the transformative power of music

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister's Remarks to Joint Party Room

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it is great to be back in the party room, the joint party room. It’s great to have everybody back here. It’s great to officially welcome Garth who joins us. Welcome, Garth...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

BEN FORDHAM: Scott Morrison, good morning to you.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Ben. How are you?    FORDHAM: Good. How many days have you got to go?   PRIME MINISTER: I've got another we...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Business News

7 foolproof tips for bidding successfully at a property auction

Auctions can be beneficial for prospective buyers, as they are transparent and fair. If you reach the limit you are willing to pay, you can simply walk away. Another benefit of an auction is tha...

Dominique Grubisa - avatar Dominique Grubisa

Getting Ready to Code? These Popular and Easy Programming Languages Can Get You Started

According to HOLP (History Encyclopedia of Programing Languages), there are more than 8,000 programming languages, some dating as far back as the 18th century. Although there might be as many pr...

News Co - avatar News Co

Avoid These Mistakes When Changing up Your Executive Career

Switching up industries is a valid move at any stage in your career, even if you’re an executive. Doing so at this stage can be a lot more intimidating, however, and it can be quite difficult know...

News Co - avatar News Co



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion