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Geoffrey Tozer

1954 – 2009

Geoffrey Tozer (1954-2009), pianist, achieved national fame as a child prodigy in the 1960s. The son of pianist and musician Veronica Tozer, he was born at a hill station in the Himalayas and lived in India until the age of four. At nine, he played Bach’s Concerto in F Minor with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and at ten, he played Haydn's Concerto in D major at Melbourne's Myer Music Bowl.The youngest-ever recipient of a Churchill Fellowship, which he gained at thirteen, he went on to perform around the world, winning the Rubenstein Medal in 1977 and 1980, the Diapason d’Or in 1992 and the Gramophone Critics’ Recording of the Year award in 1997. After his death, the London Telegraph wrote that he was a ‘champion of large-scale piano works and, in addition to Medtner, was a ferocious exponent of Busoni, Korngold and Liszt, the centenary of whose death he marked in 1986 by playing the composer's music in a five-hour marathon in Canberra.’ It was in Canberra that Paul Keating first heard Tozer playing, at St Edmund's College where Tozer was teaching piano in the late 1980s. Delivering the eulogy for the pianist in 2009, he recalled ‘It was then I understood the under-realisation of Geoffrey's international standing and of his straitened circumstances; earning $9 000 a year at St Edmund's, relying on a bicycle for his transport. It was Geoffrey's power and poverty that caused me to realise how little Australia valued artists of accomplishment, especially those in mid-career: in his case, the explosive power of his playing, yet his meagre capacity to afford the basics of life.’ Keating said that Tozer’s case inspired him, as prime minister, to establish the Australian Artists’ Creative Fellowships - popularly known as ‘the Keatings’. He remembered that, in 1988, when he was treasurer, he was driven from London to Essex to meet the head of Chandos Records, Brian Couzens, who asked, ‘Why on earth would someone like you be making an appointment with someone like me?’ Keating replied, ‘I have come to introduce you to one of the great pianists of the world.’ Tozer subsequently made 36 highly-regarded recordings of piano works by Medtner for Chandos.

Updated 2018