By Nancy T. Lu
Give Damien Beaumont, a visiting authority on Australian music from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), a chance to talk about “The ABC of Classical to Modern Music in Australia” in Taiwan, and he is bound to introduce lengthily a colorful composer like Sir Percy (George Percy Aldridge) Grainger.
Beaumont’s listeners are quite likely to be familiar with this particularly gifted Australian musician’s “Danny Boy.” Over the years, many a singer around the world has struggled with the notes to deliver the beautiful song said to be of Irish folk origin.
“The Australian-born composer Sir Percy, in his time a pianist, was a very interesting character indeed,” Beaumont told the guests at a lunch hosted by the Australian Commerce and Industry Office in Taipei last week. “He is chiefly remembered for his innovations, having created ‘free music’ and invented the ‘free music machine’ or a forerunner of the electric synthesizer.”
No traditional form of notation can describe in detail Sir Percy’s “free music,” said Beaumont. The innovative Australian composer, who was born in Victoria in 1882, anticipated many forms of 20th century music. He was dealing with “beat-less music” and talking about “chance music” ahead of John Cage by 40 years, according to Beaumont.
He was a “pop star” long before Britney Spears, getting married at the Hollywood Super Bowl before 20,000 people and with a 126-musician orchestra playing and an “a cappella” choir singing his composition dedicated to his bride “To a Nordic Princess.”
Beaumont revealed that the composer had a mother who for some reason wouldn’t let him go to school. He did though but only for three months. He was “a vegetarian who didn’t like vegetables.” And to top it all, he was “a sado-masochist who loved whipping himself.” He had this theory about flagellation stimulating creativity.
History always reserves a place of honor for whoever is first on the scene. Beaumont’s talk actually began with an introduction of Isaac Nathan, the very first western composer in Australia and the acknowledged father of Australian music.
Born in England in 1792, Nathan moved to Australia in1841, becoming the leader of the Sydney musical life. He became music adviser to both the Jewish Synagogue and the Roman Catholic St. Mary’s Cathedral. He was playing Mozart only abut 50 years after the Austrian composer’s death.
Nathan was the first to conduct research on the indigenous music of Australia. Not particularly outstanding as a composer, he wrote “not very exciting” works with “very traditional sound.” He is best remembered for his “Hebrew Melodies,” which reportedly became of interest to famous composers like Mendelssohn, Mussorgsky and Schuman. Sir Charles Mackerras, the famous conductor, is Nathan’s “great, great, great grandson.”
Beaumont, who is making his second Taipei visit, did not have much time to dwell in detail on the talented Australian contemporary composers. Of the so-called “New Kids on the Block,” he cited briefly Liza Lim, enfant terrible Anthony Pateras, Matthew Hindson (who loves to excite), and Damian Barbeler, among others.
Beaumont sang as a professional baritone for 15 years, performing in productions like Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” and Donizetti’s “Don Paquale,” before joining Australian Broadcasting Corporation and getting involved in the far-reaching music education program.
While growing up in the Australian countryside, Beaumont used to sing out lustily “The Lonely Goatherd,” filling the mountains with the powerful sound of his music. His singing family when he was young had the reputation in the community of the “Australian Von Trapp Family.”
As popular host of ABC Classic FM in Australia, Beaumont has been invited to speak about Opera Australia on Philharmonic Radio Taipei FM99.7 and Hsinchu FM90.7 at 9 p.m. on June 22 to 26. The special radio program will be broadcast in connection with Opera Australia’s staging of Bizet’s “Carmen” in collaboration with the National Symphony Orchestra and the Taipei Philharmonic Chorus at the National Theater in Taipei on July 9 to 12.