Post by Andrew Clarke Post by Andrew Clarke
Australian serialism had a very short lifespan. Meale's later works
seem to be shamelessly populist, e.g. little tone poems about
Australian country towns on Anzac Day.
How does Felix Werder fit into your view of the Australian serial
community? A friend of mine was one of his composition students.
Firstly, an important correction. It isn't Richard Meale who writes
little tone poems about country towns, if only because he died in 2009.
I was referring to Peter Sculthorpe who is still with us. The mind went
one way and my two typing fingers went another :-(
Felix Werder's output seems to have sunk without trace. He's
acknowledged as an important figure, introducing some uncompromisingly
avant-garde techniques into the fairly stuffy new music scene in
Melbourne, with his own musical origins firmly based in Vienna (2nd
School) and Darmstadt. I used to hear his music on the radio in the
1960s, and try as I might I couldn't take to it.
He was well-known as a polemicist, especially in his concert reviews for
"The Age" in Melbourne, which was in those days a great newspaper. The
merits of the performance tended to be swamped by his lopsided opinions
of the composer, so if you had the temerity to perform "The Planets" -
however brilliantly - Werder would dismiss the performance in a couple of
lines as "an overblown astrology column" or something equally damning.
He absolutely loathed the entire output of Johannes Brahms, and this
proved to be his undoing. His practice was to leave the concert whenever
a Brahms work was to be played, and to fudge a "review" of the
performance later. Unfortunately on one fatal night, there was a last
minute change in the program and Werder didn't hear the announcement ...
I also remember hearing a radio interview with him in which he described
putting on a new work when the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra was on
strike. (The MSO used to be world renowned for its bitchiness, and the
Musicians Union rep - a harpist - was fairly quick on the trigger.)
Reaching over to play a few notes on the tymps himself, he was told by
one of the other musicians that if he so much as picked up the
drumsticks, nobody in the room would ever play for him again. Unfazed,
he went out next day and hired a group of jazz musicians. "Well," Werder
said in the interview, "I had been working with the wrong people. These
players knew exactly what I wanted without having to be told ... "
The other significant thing about Werder is that he was a "Dunera boy".
The "Dunera" was a transport ship that brought European internees from
Liverpool to Australia in 1940 in appalling conditions that eventually
led to at least one court-martial and compensation to the unwilling
passengers. Many of them stayed in Australia, and like Werder made a
significant contribution to their adopted country.
With apologies to Richard Meale's memory,
with regard to Meale. I must admit my ignorance with regard to currently
and Sculthorpe. You've given me some ideas for further investigation.