vale Geoffrey Tozer
The sad news arrived on Friday that the great Australian pianist Geoffrey Tozer had died of liver failure the previous day. It’s a shock, and I can’t quite believe he’s no longer available at the other end of the phone.
I first met Geoffrey in Melbourne about twelve years ago. He volunteered at the last moment to turn pages for me, which he naturally did with great deftness. Belinda Webster assured me afterwards that there was nothing he liked better than to turn for people. Some years later, I remember a concert at ANAM where Frank Wibaut was about to play the Bartok sonata. Frank came forward and started to explain something about his busy schedule that week, how he had had to teach the sonata to students… I wasn’t sure where it was going but I did notice a gentleman standing up for some reason. Right at that moment, Frank was appealing to some kind member of the audience to come up to turn his pages, and there was Mr Tozer, who had guessed what Frank was about to ask.
Now, it was clear that Frank did not know who Geoffrey was. Seated behind Frank and looking out into the audience, Geoffrey was a study. Every nuance of Frank’s playing, even if almost imperceptibly, fleetingly reflected itself in Geoffrey’s open childlike face. A couple of times I almost laughed out loud at the bemused look that was prompted by something Frank did. But, beyond the novelty of the situation, it demonstrated something essential in Geoffrey’s unusual character.
Geoffrey didn’t regard himself as an international virtuoso. He often spoke critically against the idea of a precocious, prodigious childhood, which he had experienced. He revelled in the way music plays into life, and the converse, so that participating in any way was always special for him, whether it be turning someone’s pages, giving an inspirational lesson (often for free and for hours) or taking centre stage himself. Above all, he was able to maintain an exquisite innocence.
I only feel unutterably sad that I won’t now have the opportunity to know him better. I never saw him happier than the night my sister’s friend Alan came over to mum’s house and showed old films to us in the lounge room. Quite a film buff was our Geoffrey, and he LOVED cartoons, especially the old ones with all the great music… We had the chance two years ago to play together at a festival in Kangaroo Valley. We talked a lot about music, who we admired, what we were writing. In the taxi on the way home one afternoon I asked him what he was writing at the moment. “Oh,” he said, “I’ve just finished another piano sonata.” Can I have a copy, I asked. “Oh no, I haven’t written it down yet.”
I hope that there is something written down.