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17 June 2008

Tristram Cary remembered 4

essay by Becky Llewellyn

Tristram Cary Image: Tristram Cary  


Tristram Cary's (1925-2008) life and legacy have been celebrated in eulogies and obituaries around the world. resonate has the privilege to publish the following eulogies by Tristram's friends and colleagues. Our thanks go to Gabriella Smart for helping us to access this material, and to Tristram's wife Jane and family for the kind permission to publish these texts. Becky Llewellyn's personal perspective, while not a eulogy delivered at the memorial service, was written on the same day, 11th May 2008.

Tristram Cary - essay by Becky Llewellyn

See also:
Tristram Cary - eulogy by Jeffrey Harris
Tristram Cary - eulogy by Gabriella Smart
Tristram Cary - obituary by Charles Bodman Rae

In approaching the legacy of a man such as Tristram Cary, one is daunted by the sheer scale and scope of his life’s work and passions. He was literally a big man, and to find appropriate metaphors to hold that reality as we say farewell, it is probably most apt to think of a large mountain.

As a composer, his output spans all known classical genres, as well as being a pioneer of electronic music hardware, aesthetic and compositional techniques. What Australian composer of today has such breadth and depth? He wrote for orchestra, ballet, opera, music theatre, radio, film, chamber works, solo instrumental and voice. Each work was original – he 'set his pegs' around new musical ideas and his joy was to explore what he could make of unfamiliar terrain. That is why his opus is curiously hard to peg down – his own intellectual curiosity and integrity drove him to stay on the edge of creativity. A story told at his funeral confirmed this: he had sent back the money for his final commission, because he didn’t feel he had any new musical ideas and didn’t want to recycle old ones.

As a mentor and teacher, he set the standard far above what is expected of today’s academics. He brought his own equipment and sound studio from England and installed them in the Elder Conservatorium Sound Studio where he instituted a 24-hour open policy for his students. Security guards became used to Tristram’s students emerging bleary-eyed at 4am, having been lost in the fugue of sine waves and tape loops. He socialised with his students, regaling them with stories, inspiring and challenging through his wide terrain of conversation.

Brought up in a home of intellectuals and artists, his father making a living as a novelist, his mother a supporter of this endeavour and excellent musician in her own right, Tristram mingled with the best and brightest of England’s literati as a child. He expected life and art to have qualities of excellence, adventure and pursued this with his own rigorous standards. He loved nothing more than great conversations with drinks and food – a feast of the senses to explore life’s contours. His ceaseless interest in music was the perfect entrée to his work as a national music critic for The Australian, where he displayed his fine sense of proportion, nesting new works he heard into music history with clarity in well-honed prose.

For a musician, Tristram was very acutely visual. Much of his early work for TV and film is based on his empathy to deliver sound to enhance the visual. His orchestral work on the Flinders Ranges is a musical transposition of the geographic and geological contours of that ancient mountain range – the best way for him to pay tribute to its scope and scale. He often placed visual art on the covers of his immaculate scores, a touch of courtesy to the muse in all creative people. Some say he had a large ego, but it seems that, more than this, he had a large scale and was a co-operative and eager collaborator in all types of musical events. His work with performers was as a team and although he didn’t gush with praise, his critical abilities were ably employed in bringing out the best performances of his works through people who knew him as a living composer.

Perhaps secretly each composer awaits the day when the preface ’living’ is deleted and their works begin to have a life of their own in the canon of compositions from their place and time. Tristram had not just one, but two places from which to draw accolades. His home country provided him with the opportunities to support a family through composition with his active work in radio, TV and film. He was well known throughout the country as an excellent orchestrator and conductor. His ceaseless intellectual curiosity and electronics training combined with thrifty habits of childhood lead him to scour London’s second-hand outlets for ex-WWII electronics military gear, which he converted into machines for making sound. In the aftermath of a war, when faith in humanity has been bruised and corrupted, perhaps music of maths, of physics, of machines, seems the best, perhaps only, evocation of something pure.

Tristram explored this world but in the end came back to write music of the heart, for above all, he was a man of passion. He loved his family, he loved his friends, he loved wine and nature in abundance. His music is highly structured albeit uniquely in each genre, to indicate a sense of proportion that tips its hat to a Creator, a sense of the sacred in structure. His recently performed I Am Here pierces the heart of a woman’s experience with such empathy of emotional states transposed into an eerily structured bell jar of live and pre-mixed electronics with solo voice.

His work spans humour, pathos, war, love, nature, sound itself which is his true legacy – a giant of a composer who has left us many gems of several genres, content to range like an enormous Mount Everest over a large span of intellectual and musical pursuits. He knew himself, his strengths and weaknesses, and was comfortable in his skin and with his life choices. The need to write music was a force within him which did not diminish over time and he spread his passion, knowledge and insights to all of those who were lucky enough to know him, either in England or Australia.

Vale Tristram, you were here and you have left an indelible mark.

Becky Llewellyn, composer
11th May 2008

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Subjects discussed by this article:

As a national service organisation, the Australian Music Centre is dedicated to increasing the profile and sustainability of Australian composers and other creative artists. The AMC facilitates the performance, awareness and appreciation of music by these artists through: composer and other creative artist representation and assistance; resonate – its online magazine; library and retail services; sheet music publishing; and the management, administration and publication of project-based initiatives. Its library collection holds over 30,000 items by more than 500 artists.


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