The prince and the pauper


News started to filter out on Saturday of the death this week of Geoffrey Tozer, Australian pianist.

Tozer attracted the attention and then the patronage of Mr Keating, then treasurer, in about 1987. Keating was shocked to learn that Tozer, teaching at his son’s school in Canberra and, in Keating’s view, a genius and world-leading artist, was earning only $9,000 a year and cycling to work.

Tozer became (even more controversially, twice) the beneficiary of the fellowships which Keating established for “mature artists.” It was controversy to the power of three since the concept of the fellowships themselves was also attacked.

The real problem was the element of personal patronage for which it has to be said there was some evidence.

Personal patronage is a prerogative of power. Of course it can be used for good, but it excites suspicions and risks attack because inevitably it can be perceived as a kind of egotism and is also susceptible to even unwitting abuse. There are lots of very talented musicians, and perhaps the chance that Tozer was the one whom Keating met up close played an undue role in his favouring. Others (the usual suspects), more case-hardened but also exposed to many other talented artists, might have chosen someone else.

Tozer went on, with the financial support of the “Keating,” to record practically all of N Medtner’s works (if not all) for piano for Chandos. He didn’t seem to do so many live performances.

Some of the “Keating” money probably slipped through Tozer’s fingers when he bought a convent in Queanbeayan with the aim of restoring it and establishing an arts and music centre there. Tozer abandoned that plan and sold out. That usually leads to a financial loss.

As Wikipedia reports (via the Melbourne Herald Sun):

On Thursday, 20 August 2009, Geoffrey Tozer died from liver disease at the East Malvern house in Melbourne in which he lived as a child, having been released from the Alfred Hospital the previous week.

Ian Munro has written a more personal post on Geoffrey’s passing here. This appears to have caused offence to GT’s family, though I cannot think that any was intended. The post and and Ian’s comment to that post (he has also commented @ 9 below) have undergone revisions.


IM has since written an obituary for The Guardian. While the link lasts, there is also the Keating Tozer Eulogy.

10 Responses to “The prince and the pauper”

  1. wanderer Says:

    Anyway, I think that photo has told me more about Mr Tozer than any missing Age obit could. Thanks.

    • marcellous Says:

      Well, a picture can lie too, you know, or at least represent an angle and a moment out of many. They were snapped together a few years ago when GT was an artist in residence at the Australian Institute of Music, in Foveux St Surry Hills. See here.

      I hope you read Ian Munro’s post, as well.

  2. wanderer Says:

    M, I had read Ian Munro’s post before my comment having accessed it via the comments on Lebrecht’s site I think.

    I know a photo can misrepresent but I assumed (and admittedly where I work assumption is the mother of all xxxx-ups) your choice was deliberate. The (known) Keating juxtaposition references age, size, and style and I saw a man who looked self-contained, content but not smug, with considerable individuality without attention-seeking, with a posture, face and smile of warmth and humour and someone I dare to presume was extremely likable. It informed me about who he was rather than what he was.

    • marcellous Says:

      So much that a picture can say. Mostly I agree with you and where I don’t it’s not because I disagree but only because I’m not sure (“content”). One thing which I think might fairly be added, which I think was one aspect of the story which the picture also corroborates as to the first part, was that GT was shy, but that music was both his gift and one way out of that. That’s the paragraph:

      At the Australian Institute of Music in Surry Hills, the acclaimed Melbourne-based pianist sat down at the concert grand piano and let his fingers do what shyness could not. Playing Chopin, he swayed in his seat, eyelids fluttering in empathic communion with notes and harmony.

      Ian Munro’s lovely story about the unassuming way in which GT offered to turn pages and the transparency of (or at least lack of any apparent thought to conceal) his response to what was then played touches on something similar.

  3. Dtl Says:

    It saddens me that there is so much talk about Geoffrey being Keating’s favourite and so on. Will human envy ever end ?
    I’m glad he got all the help that he got. Should have also had more support from Australia’s more prominent or luckier musicians. But instead of being celebrated as the genius he was while still alive he was a subject of jealousy and hatred just because he was different. Same old story.
    He was the most generous and talented person I’ve met in Australia in the last 20 years.

  4. marcellous Says:

    Dtl, there was envy from other artists, but I remember more Tozer being caught as collateral damage in attacks on Keating.

    You can track it down with a bit of intelligent googling, but there is a question in parliament after the SMH Good Weekend story had suggested that PK had encouraged GT to undertake the Queanbeyan venture and even advised him about it, I think. My guess is that GT was the one who had naively made a comment to that effect to the journalist, which then led to the qs in parliament.

    PK gave as good as he got, springing to the defence of GT though not in fact deigning to answer the question directly. At one point Peter Costello interjected: “We’re not attacking him; we’re attacking you!” (or words to that effect). As if they cared if GT was hurt as well.

  5. Dtl Says:

    Thank you for the explanation but my point is that when we talk about Geoffrey especially now that he’s died shouldn’t we focus on his talent and look at ourselves regarding the treatment we dish out to anybody that simply doesn’t fit in rather then continue with politics. Geoffrey was never interested in politics. How can anybody believe they can tell a person’s character from one silly picture is beyond me. They obviously didn’t know Geoffrey. His child like character and yet knowledge that goes to depths most people in this country wouldn’t have a clue about. That’s all I wanted to point out. He was a genius and as such did require patronage. It looks like we haven’t learnt a thing since Mozart’s time.

  6. marcellous Says:

    Dtl, I think that is a bit unfair on Wanderer. He wasn’t working just on the picture but what the picture added to other things he knew, and in fact if you look he was really saying that the picture confirmed pretty much what you say.

    My own post was a deliberately dry account of one aspect of Geoffrey Tozer’s story. I didn’t take it upon myself to make an assessment of his genius or even his personality: I take it as a given that people like him are extraordinary, though the unavoidable issue is that there are other people who are extraordinary too. Not all find the fame they deserve – and I don’t mean that as a vote in favour of envy, so much as a recognition that it is going to arise. Envy, and also the risk of being attacked collaterally because of an attack on your patron, are the situational problems of favourites – using the term entirely neutrally to denote the person who is favoured. As Thomas Gray said, coining a phrase, “A favourite has no friend.” (Clearly, not literally true in GT’s case.)

    Trivially (that is to say, in some way almost universally so as not to prove very much), everyone probably has a bit of that feeling about themselves (of not finding the deserved or potentially possible fame). One thing that is odd to me is that I’ve seen people saying GT’s life was tragic. Apart from his death, I’ve supposed they were talking about his brush with fame or the difficulty of making a career despite his genius, and possibly other matters which I just don’t know about. I even find myself thinking that now, but in fact I don’t know that GT would have felt that way about himself. I didn’t know him and don’t pretend to: I can only rely on the accounts of others.

    I absolutely agree with you that the life of gifted people like Geoffrey (there, I’ve slipped into use of his Christian name, even though we were never introduced) though superficially enviable is often very difficult, first, because they are exceptional (which includes the difficulties of being “different”) and secondly because talent creates expectations which can only be fulfilled with a combination of determination and application and, most cruelly, luck – which basically comes down to, as you say, some element of patronage.

    For artists and performers, more than others, there is the extra difficulty that necessarily this must all be played out in public: fame is not just the spur but a necessity. The lucky ones (including those who have a talent for securing patronage: as in life generally, some do, some don’t) surf a wave of fame and come out of it well at the end. For others, fame can take you uncomfortably close to the sun. (Yes, I know I’ve switched metaphors in mid-stream.)

  7. ianmunro Says:

    For what it’s worth, I was contacted the other day by a representative of the family, who said that they objected vehemently to my little vignette. I would say, read it for yourself, but I have amended it to make it more anodyne because it must be a difficult time for the family and the last thing I would wish to do is to cause offence. However, I don’t believe that Geoffrey’s memory is best served by any kind of white-washing or inflating. Geoffrey’s ample achievements speak for themselves and don’t need undue amplification. I, too, think that he was unjustly maligned over the Creative Fellowships and have no envy whatsoever for anyone talented who gets a bit of help here and there (I would certainly accept a cool $500k if the Treasurer offered it…). Geoffrey was a remarkable man who had strong opinions of his own, which he voiced, and wore the flak. He was also tremendously likeable and witty, especially about music and musicians, not surprisingly. It really is a tragedy that his health declined the way it did but it does nothing to diminish the respect and love he drew from many who were close to him.

  8. Dtl Says:

    Dear Mr. Munro, I could not imagine why your “vignette’ would be a subject of any objections from anyone. I, although vastly insignificant in the matter thank you for your lovely reminiscence of the man. That’s how we should speak of people who matter. Not judge. We don’t walk in their shoes etc. Your article brought tears to my eyes since that’s how I remember him also but more then anything always generous and sharing his enormous talent. And I don’t mean to exaggerate or inflate. It’s only how I saw him.
    Thank for your generosity. It’s rare.

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