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8 April 2024

David Morgan - a Life lived in Sound


David Morgan Image: David Morgan  

David Morgan understood life through sound. His English origin was, from age 4, embedded in the Australian context of schooling in post-Depression Sydney, overlaid with a Central European music influence that informed his oboe, conducting and composition pursuits.

Throughout his music life David singularly determined a unique two-fold direction of activity. With a rare talent not often recognised, David arranged and composed pieces for odd and difficult combinations of student music groups that naturally arise in schools. He not only met this requirement with gusto, but composed a convincing rendition of the musical intent. At the same time, he composed works in virtually every genre with an output that includes fifteen symphonies, concerti, chamber music, works for concert band, instrumental pieces, songs and choral works; and he continued to compose till shortly before his death at 91 as enthusiastically as in his teens.

Into this mix, wanting Australian pieces for percussion, I asked if he could compose a work for me, a commission that initiated some fifty delightful and productive years of collaboration, expanding and deepening my own technical skills and musical understandings. Drawing on his life experiences, David expressed ideas, through symbolism, metaphor and allegory. Presenting profound thoughts and feelings of joy, sadness, nature and death within a thematic whole he also extrapolated musically on the fallout from significant international events and their personal consequences.

Loss, commissioned in 1981for my quartet, Adelaide Percussions, focused on the crushing of the Solidarity movement in Poland, the country of my origins; this historic event occurred in conjunction with the 'disappearance', under very mysterious circumstances, of the brother of a close friend. Both clearly were of deep personal interest. These facts impelled a referencing of Chopin's Marche Fun├Ębre from his Sonata op. 35, but in two different time signatures simultaneously, of 5/8 against 3/4, emphasizing the incongruity of such unlikely connections. Concerto for Percussion centred on the violent death of a young girl in Brisbane, contextualising the tragic brevity of her life and horrific consequences for her family. Opening with a gentle Pastoral Prelude of a tune that Morgan's father whistled as he worked mixed with bird calls heard in his garden. A sentimental and sweet contrasting entree into the greater context. Played on marimba and answered in rhythm on bongos, their action of beating reflects the idea of work tunefully to symbolise innocence of youth and its promise unfulfilled. In similar fashion the calibrated percussive rhythmic development escalates expressively culminating in the cacophony of violent death and profiling the human reactions of anger, sorrow, frustration, and acceptance before being brought to a conclusion in a Toccata and Coda. A video of its realisation with digital orchestra created by David Stanhope, can be seen on https://ryszardpusz.com.au/performances.

Technical demands pepper David's works. Voyage into Solitude asking the percussionist to play a different rhythm with each limb; Lachy's Lullaby calling for extended one-handed tremolo in the upper, and so less resonant and less gentle, register of the marimba; contrary motion across wide spacing needed in Grand Old Duke of York are some examples. And in each case the essence of the work necessitates mastering of percussive technique in order to portray the musicality of each theme. David constantly provided these magnificent challenges, surprises and delights requiring our close productive collaboration over many years of joyful experience. He taught me a lot!

David Morgan, a Represented Artist at the Australian Music Centre, was a prolific and influential composer, and his music has received significant performances in Australia, the USA, UK, Poland, Czechia, Hungary, Germany, and Hong Kong. The beauty and conceptual depths of his harmonies are a legacy we can presently embrace but, as with many greats, his contribution to the global archive is yet to be realised in its entirety.

He has not left us.

David Morgan, as portrayed by Una Grimshaw
David Morgan, as portrayed by Una Grimshaw.

This obituary was originally published by the SA Music Teachers Association.


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Ryszard Pusz is a percussionist and composer currently researching new parameters of percussion composition, performance and presentation. Exploring uncharted sonorities of the medium and purposeful interpretations he continues to develop unique playing techniques and theatrical approaches.


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