S F Aburn building

Well one week it was one side of my father’s family in the news and this week the other.  On Friday an article appeared in the Otago Daily Times regarding the restoration of the S F Aburn building in Princes Street.  I hadn’t ever noticed the building before the fire which almost consumed it but when in Dunedin in 2016 had taken a photo of it gutted, and could see from the article that not much had changed in three years.

Aburn building photo

Samuel F(elix) Aburn trained as a painter and paper hanger and began in business in 1903.  The business later became involved in glass, and in this capacity it still operates today although the Aburn family is no longer involved in it.

The Hocken holds an archive for the business and also a wonderful photo of a group of young painters, including Samuel Felix, taken early in the 20th century.  I don’t have permission to reproduce the photo but this is a  link to a brochure produced by the Hocken on Dunedin businesses which has the photo on the first page.

It’s wonderful to see buildings such as this restored and even more exciting when there’s a personal connection.  Can’t wait to see what it looks like when I’m down in Dunedin later this year for the 1869 Conference.

 

 

The sad life of Geoffrey Tozer

Tozer

“Who’s heard of Geoffrey Tozer?” a teacher at the Victorian College of the Arts asked his class at the beginning of The Eulogy.  No-one had.  An hour and a half of footage later the same teacher asked the same class “Who thinks Geoffrey Tozer deserves to be in the same group as Nellie Melba, Percy Grainger and Joan Sutherland?”.  All hands were raised.

Like the VCPA class I’d never heard of Geoffrey Tozer before seeing this film.  Based around the accusations in the obituary Paul Keating gave at his funeral, the documentary explored why Tozer’s loss was not mourned as the loss of “Glen Gould of Canada or Ginette Neveu of France” would be.  Why he was not named alongside the Australian musical greats of Nellie Melba, Percy Grainger and Joan Sutherland.  Why, despite his exceptional gifts, he had been so neglected.

The Eulogy was based around the VCPA’s teacher’s quest to answer Keating’s accusation that it was the “bitchiness” of the Australian music scene in Sydney and Melbourne which was responsible for this neglect.  But, as the documentary showed, nothing is that simple.  There was no one reason but several.  An important one was the ultimately negative, almost destructive influence, of his mother.  A talented pianist herself she was an amateur genetic engineer choosing a genius to be the father of her child, and deciding her unborn child would be a musical prodigy.  She dominated his life and career until her death, keeping him, but more importantly his talent and career, under her control.  Tozer was thus completely unprepared for everyday life.  He left school at 13, lived a very socially isolated existence, couldn’t look after himself and only seems to have felt comfortable and at home sitting at the piano.  During an affair he began to party and drink heavily.  Although the affair and partying ended he kept drinking; the alcohol eventually killing him.

Juxtaposed against the interviews with his brother and others who knew him was Keating’s obituary, which he had agreed to recreate for the film.  Of interest to me was the championship of Tozer Keating undertook after hearing him perform at his son’s school where Tozer was a music teacher.  Keating is a fascinating subject in his own right (for me anyone who listens to Mahler to relax is) and was a great champion of the arts in Australia, instituting the Creative Artists Creative Fellowships which were later abolished.  Interviews with the past manager of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and a concert pianist who played with the orchestras which rejected Tozer, revealed Tozer’s unreliability, perhaps alcohol induced, and the impact this had on those he was working with.

I came away uplifted by Tozer’s music but saddened by his life, the harm a mother could do to her child, his lost childhood, his largely lonely adulthood, his hideous and long road to death by alcohol.  But on the positive side the documentary introduced me to his wonderful music and it’s easy to hear why Rubenstein called him “an extraordinary pianist”.    As I’ve been writing this I’ve listened to many of his performances, including his recording of Listz’s Hungarian Rhapsody No 2, where he slips Waltzing Matilda into the cadenza.  He may not be spoken of in the same breath as Melba, Grainger and Sutherland but he was one of Australia’s musical greats.

“Who’s heard of Geoffrey Tozer?” a teacher at the Victorian College of the Arts asked his class at the beginning of The Eulogy.  No-one had.  An hour and a half of footage later the same teacher asked the same class “Who thinks Geoffrey Tozer deserves to be in the same group as Nellie Melba, Percy Grainger and Joan Sutherland?”.  All hands were raised.

Like the VCPA class I’d never heard of Geoffrey Tozer before seeing this film.  Based around the accusations in the obituary Paul Keating gave at his funeral, the documentary explored why Tozer’s loss was not mourned as the loss of “Glen Gould of Canada or Ginette Neveu of France” would be.  Why he was not named alongside the Australian musical greats of Nellie Melba, Percy Grainger and Joan Sutherland.  Why, despite his exceptional gifts, he had been so neglected.

The Eulogy was based around the VCPA’s teacher’s quest to answer Keating’s accusation that it was the “bitchiness” of the Australian music scene in Sydney and Melbourne which was responsible for this neglect.  But, as the documentary showed, nothing is that simple.  There was no one reason but several.  An important one was the ultimately negative, almost destructive influence, of his mother.  A talented pianist herself she was an amateur genetic engineer choosing a genius to be the father of her child, and deciding her unborn child would be a musical prodigy.  She dominated his life and career until her death, keeping him, but more importantly his talent and career, under her control.  Tozer was thus completely unprepared for everyday life.  He left school at 13, lived a very socially isolated existence, couldn’t look after himself and only seems to have felt comfortable and at home sitting at the piano.  During an affair he began to party and drink heavily.  Although the affair and partying ended he kept drinking; the alcohol eventually killing him.

Juxtaposed against the interviews with his brother and others who knew him was Keating’s obituary, which he had agreed to recreate for the film.  Of interest to me was the championship of Tozer Keating undertook after hearing him perform at his son’s school where Tozer was a music teacher.  Keating is a fascinating subject in his own right (for me anyone who goes home to relax and listen to Mahler and Bruckner is) and was a great champion of the arts in Australia, instituting the Creative Artists Creative Fellowships which were later abolished.  Interviews with the past manager of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and a concert pianist who played with the orchestras which rejected Tozer, revealed Tozer’s unreliability, perhaps alcohol induced, and the impact this had on those he was working with.

I came away uplifted by Tozer’s music but saddened by his life, the harm a mother could do to her child, his lost childhood, his largely lonely adulthood, his hideous and long road to death by alcohol.  But on the positive side the documentary introduced me to his wonderful music and it’s easy to hear why Rubenstein called him “an extraordinary pianist”.    As I’ve been writing this I’ve listened to many of his performances, including his recording of Listz’s Hungarian Rhapsody No 2, where he slips Waltzing Matilda into the cadenza.  He may not be spoken of in the same breath as Melba, Grainger and Sutherland but he was one of Australia’s musical greats.

You can see the trailer for The Eulogy here.

The music merchant, his wife and her lover

Imagine my surprise on opening the Saturday Dominion Post to see the lurid account of my great-great-uncle Alec Begg’s divorce recounted 100 years after it took place.

Alec Begg article

The Truth was known for its love of the sensational and Alec’s divorce provided plenty of material.  You can read Tina White’s account of this “Music Merchant’s Marital Miseries” here.  I was pleased to see Meet Me at Begg’s get a mention even though I was misquoted.  Alec and a (subsequent) wife adopted a boy not a girl.