Complex truth behind pianist’s fall from grace
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.
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A young Geoffrey Tozer at the piano with his mother.