Com­plex truth be­hind pi­anist’s fall from grace

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER -

IT was Paul Keat­ing’s with­er­ing eu­logy that piqued much-loved con­duc­tor Richard Gill’s in­ter­est.

If the late pi­anist Ge­of­frey Tozer was as good as the for­mer PM sug­gested, then why hadn’t he ever heard of him. And what was be­hind Keat­ing’s lac­er­at­ing com­ment that Aus­tralia’s mu­si­cal es­tab­lish­ment should “hang their heads in shame”.

“If any­one needs a case ex­am­ple of the bitch­i­ness and pref­er­ence within the arts in Aus­tralia, here you have it,” he thun­dered.

Keat­ing’s at­ten­tion­grab­bing, 45-minute vin­di­ca­tion of his for­mer friend turned Gill, who died him­self last year af­ter an il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer span­ning more than five decades, into an am­a­teur sleuth.

And this rich, lay­ered doc­u­men­tary is the end re­sult.

Pas­sion­ate, gen­er­ous and opin­ion­ated, Gill was per­haps uniquely qual­i­fied to solve the “mys­tery” of Tozer’s seem­ingly in­ex­pli­ca­ble anonymity — with the help of ex­pe­ri­enced film­maker Ja­nine Hosk­ing (My Kh­mer Heart).

With a suitable sense of the­atre, the “mu­si­cian’s mu­si­cian” set­tles back in an arm­chair, sur­rounded by can­dles, to lis­ten to Tozer’s record­ings of Medt­ner.

His deep and gen­uine ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the mu­si­cian­ship holds con­sid­er­able weight.

But while The Eu­logy sup­ports Keat­ing’s as­ser­tion that Tozer was a bril­liant con­cert pi­anist, it also of­fers a much more com­plex and nu­anced ex­pla­na­tion for the mu­si­cian’s fall from grace.

The doc­u­men­tary grad­u­ally builds its case through a wide range of in­ter­views — with Tozer’s brother, his close friends, mem­bers of the mu­si­cal es­tab­lish­ment and fi­nally, his for­mer lover — fleshed out by a trea­sure trove of old pho­to­graphs and cor­re­spon­dence.

There’s a great quote, for ex­am­ple, from Tozer about child prodi­gies. “There goes a per­son with their fu­ture be­hind him,” the pi­anist ob­serves wryly. He should know (Tozer wrote an opera at the age of eight).

No por­trait of the pi­anist would be com­plete with­out an ac­knowl­edg­ment of his mother’s con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence. By all ac­counts, Veron­ica Tozer was an ex­tra­or­di­nary woman, but she was also, the film­mak­ers sug­gest, a dam­ag­ingly over­bear­ing one.

The Eu­logy tack­les the al­co­holism that plagued Tozer later in life with a sim­i­larly level gaze.

Un­like a con­ven­tional who­dunit, the film­mak­ers don’t re­veal any one sin­gle cul­prit for Tozer’s tragic death, at the age of 54, “play­ing to him­self in a rented sub­ur­ban Mel­bourne house” as Keat­ing so mem­o­rably put it.

The real story is much sad­der and more nu­anced than that. And by telling it this way, the film­mak­ers do their gifted sub­ject jus­tice.


A young Ge­of­frey Tozer at the pi­ano with his mother.

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