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17 May 2017

Robert Allworth 1943-2017

Robert Allworth Image: Robert Allworth  

Robert Allworth's legacy to Australian music is two-fold. Firstly, there is his substantial work list of hundreds of compositions of mostly instrumental music, from solo piano and organ works to chamber works, ensemble works and large-scale orchestral pieces. And secondly, the result of his tireless efforts recording Australian music for his own Jade Records label. Thanks to this work, Allworth's own music will remain there for anyone to listen to, to revisit and to discover. News of Allworth's death, in late February, came to his music community with a substantial delay - the following obituary has kindly been provided by Robert's cousin Anthony Buckley.

Regarded by many of his contemporaries as a maverick Australian composer, Robert Cooper Allworth died on 26 February 2017 at the age of 74. The only child of Gwen (née Jones) and Ken Allworth of the Sydney suburb of Denistone, Robert became a keen student of the piano and the theory of music at school. In his teens he became a devotee of the music of Arnold Schoenberg and his 12-tone music. Robert began experimenting at his keyboard Schoenberg's method of manipulating all 12 notes in the chromatic scale, and applying this method to his own compositions, much to the despair of his parents.

After his parents died just six months apart, Robert and his partner William Parsons decided to stay on in the family home at Denistone. Robert and William were parishioners at Christ Church St Laurence, and the Sunday lunches at their home became legendary, including, on occasion, the presence of Father Austin Day as a guest. Fellow composers began to sit up and take notice when Robert's chamber and solo works were given public performances here.

Wider recognition came in 1965 when one of Robert's sonatas for piano was chosen for a performance, in Stockholm, by the International Society for Contemporary Music. Now ranked as one of Australia's serious composers, Robert's symphonic works were performed in London, Hong Kong and Japan, whilst at home these works were performed by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Patrick Thomas.

Robert said of his music: 'To me music must have something about life or create a poetic mood. My music draws its inspiration mostly from the sacred aspects of Roman Catholicism, from certain traditions of past eras in Western civilisation, and from classic works of literature that fascinate me: usually literature about colourful people in the history of art and religion. Although my compositional language does not follow, and resists being defined in reference to, any particular trend within contemporary music, some of my compositions do, on occasion, enter into more cerebral or abstract manifestations. A Different Time, A Different Place (for violin and piano) and Processional and Epilogue (for alto recorder and vibraphone) both make use of aleatoric techniques, for instance. Nevertheless, much of my oeuvre can be referred to loosely as either "romantic", "impressionistic", or "serial".'

The death of his partner William Parsons caused inconsolable grief to Robert. He decided to move out of the family home to a smaller apartment in West Ryde where his output of his composing became prolific. It was during this period that he was to meet his new partner in life, Derek Ward.

Amongst Robert's greatest achievements was the establishment of Jade Records, enabling him to produce and record the works of his fellow composers. Supported by the late composer Dulcie Holland and with financial contributions by the composers themselves, Allworth released recordings of works by Holland, Ann Carr-Boyd, Colin Brumby, Eric Gross, Derek Strahan, Michael Smetanin and Peter Sculthorpe, among many others. In most cases these works were recorded and subsequently broadcast for the first time. In all, over 100 CDs were produced and distributed over a twenty-year period. For this extraordinary achievement, Robert Allworth was awarded an Order of Australia medal in 1997.

After the death of his partner Derek in 2010, Robert's health steadily deteriorated. In 2013 he was diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia. His recent death almost went unnoticed, owing to a bureaucrat bungle on the part of his nursing home and funeral director. Robert's ashes are to be interred, as per his wishes of 2010, beside those of Derek Ward, at Northern Suburbs Crematorium.

Yet I do write music not only to communicate with those of this current age, but to engage, through time itself, with future generations also. (Robert Allworth)

Further links

Robert Allworth - AMC profile (works, recordings)

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