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22 January 2015

John Gilfedder (1925-2015)

John Gilfedder Image: John Gilfedder  

Composer John Gilfedder has passed away in Brisbane on 20 January 2015, a week before his 90th birthday.

John Gilfedder was born in Melbourne on 27 January 1925. After studying medicine, he started to compose in 1948, and studied first in England in 1951-52 with Benjamin Frankel and Raymond Jones, and later part-time at the University of Melbourne, graduating with a Bachelor of Music degree in 1958. He also completed a Bachelor of Education with Honours in 1962.

He was employed by the Victorian Education Department between 1953 and 1969, before taking up a position at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music in 1970.

John Gilfedder described his harmonic style as being neither atonal nor traditionally tonal, instead using a more ambiguous and faintly modal approach. Works characteristic of his style include The Timeless Land Symphony, which celebrated 'the awesome geological history of Australia, with God shaping the landscape'. Other works by Gilfedder display a concern for concepts such as time (in Three Songs of Time and the Timelessness for voice with mixed ensemble) and colour (in the orchestral work Prisms).

He was president of the International Society for Contemporary Music in Queensland between 1975 and 1977. He received commissions from, among others, Queensland Conservatorium Percussion, the Queensland Youth Orchestra, the 1991 International Clarinet Conference, and the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra.

A close friend Robert Davidson remembers John Gilfedder:

'When starting as a composer, few things are more valuable than encouraging words from someone who's been there. For me, that was the adorable, gentle, wise and always surprising man John Gilfedder, who invited me to his home with other musicians while I was still in high school. He listened with full attention to my early compositions, making astute and carefully considered observations about what worked and what didn't. He treated me as a colleague, and best of all exuded endless enthusiasm and joy about music, spirituality and life. We listened together to Beethoven, Sibelius, John Tavener, Steve Reich, and much other music and discussed the finer points over dinner. I was launched into being a composer. John and I stayed friends until the end. When I saw him a couple of days before he died, he said "gidday" and made a joke about how his 90th birthday was the same day as Mozart's, while struggling to breathe and clutching his heart. He was a man who lived his passion and his humanity fully.'

One of John Gilfedder's favourite quotes about music came from the American writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau:

'When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.'

AMC resources

John Gilfedder - AMC profile

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