Interview with Eric Gross
by Leonard Lehrman
L: We're here in Dremoyne [a suburb of Sydney, Australia, on January 22, 2002] at the home of, and interviewing, Eric Gross, composer, born the 16th of September, 1926 in Vienna. He emigrated to Australia at the age of 12? 11? 13? Incorrect.
E: I emigrated to England in 1938.
L: And when did you come to Australia?
E: I came purely accidentally, in 1958. I passed through. I had no intention of emigrating to Australia.
L: So you lived for 20 years in England.
E: O yes, I grew up there.
L: So do you have triple citizenship?
E: Dual. Australian and British.
L: And have you been back to England a great deal since '58?
E: O yes. Well, my wife of course is from England. We have relations there, so we've been back frequently. She has been back more often than I. But that's probably because we also have relations in Pittsburgh, in the USA, and relations in Vienna, and if you go to visit one and not the others, there is trouble, so it usually meant a round-the-world trip, which gets a bit expensive.
L: You left Vienna with your parents?
E: No, I left in December '38, and by that time my father had been arrested, and was away.
L: Were you in the Kindertransport?
E: Yes, apparently I was one of those, and in fact there was a film made about this recently, called "Into the Arms of Strangers." But I didn't bother to go and see it because I was there; I didn't have to see myself. So I got there and I was treated extremely well, extremely kindly. Not like what's been done here at the moment. And as I said I grew up and did very well professionally. And by sheer accident, in 1958, I'd been to New Caledonia for six months, in Nouméa.
L: How did that come about?
E: Well, my life is a rather incredible story. People don't believe it. This happened because from 1950 to '53 I'd been working in Colombo, in Sri Lanka at the Galleface Hotel with an orchestra. And then I went back to UK and I found myself in Aberdeen, in Scotland, straight from Colombo - which was a bit of a problem, climatewise - and I found I could work my way through university there playing piano, in Aberdeen. But of course, after paying university for four years, and having got married meanwhile, we needed some financial help. And I was offered this contract with a band at the Biarritz nightclub in Nouméa, New Caledonia for six months. And the advantage there was, accommodation and food and everything was [provided], so I could actually practically save up six months' salary, to get us back on an even keel. And in those days, to get back to the UK you had to fly from Nouméa either out of Brisbane or Sydney. And I called into Sydney, where I knew a lot of Australian musicians anyway. And I liked the climate, blue skies, especially after five years in Scotland. So I decided to stay. And then Pamela and my mother came out to join me - I brought them out to join me, and we've been here ever since. So that's how we came to be here.
L: Now tell me a little bit more about what you remember of Vienna. You were born there and spent your first twelve years there. You went to school there.
E: Yes, yes, I liked it.
L: You said your father had been arrested. Your mother?
E: My mother had left before. She got a tip they were going to come and get her too, so she got into Switzerland.
L: Did you ever see either of them again?
E: O yes. I got united with my mother eventually in England. But my father never got out, and he died in Theresienstadt. So that's how it was.
L: Have you been back to Theresienstadt?
L: Or Vienna?
E: Yes. That's because my mother's side, what the Nazis used to call the Aryan side, the non-Jewish side...
L: You were a "Mischling."
E: ...her brothers survived easily. That family survived. And I always reminded the other Viennese people that I know: "You didn't have to be a Nazi to survive." Because you know the excuse in Vienna: "O well, we had to. We had to." My mother's family didn't have to. And they survived. Well, they've all died, but their children, my cousins, they're there, so we usually have a week in Vienna. And I try to time it so there's a football match there, 'cause I'm still a soccer fan.
We go to Munich some times. I look at the list to see if Bayern München is playing there.
L: So when was the first time that you went back to Vienna?
E: After the war? I think it must have been 1947.
L: That early?
E: Just briefly, yes..
L: Did they invite you back, the way they have invited people who had to leave?
E: No. There was one chappie called Joseph Horowitz, a composer in London, who's written all sorts of music - a good clarinet sonata, and so forth - he's written music for the Festival of Britain. He and I were in the same class together, in elementary school. Eventually they asked him, and they played a little program of his chamber music, and so forth.
L: In Vienna?
E: Yes. The point is, I haven't written them. I can't be bothered.
L: Tell us about your life in England. You came there as a child.
E: I was 12.
L: Without any parents.
E: I came with a string and a paper around my neck with my name on it. I don't know if you saw that film. That's how I arrived. And they put us in a camp for a couple of weeks. And then we were split up in various groups. And they did a very sensible thing. For about the first couple of months, we didn't do anything except learn English. Which was sensible. Very sensible. And then we got split up. I went to school. And eventually my mother got there and she had a little job.
In those days, at the age of 14, on your 14th birthday, which in my case was in September '40, you got kicked out of the public school. That was just the system - how it was - unless you went to private school. Which of course I couldn't afford. So I left school. And ever since then I've had to support myself.
L: Were you already playing piano professionally?
E: Yes, it's again one of those things. You see, my first piano teacher in Vienna was a composer called Hans Erich Apostel. You'll find him in the music dictionaries. A twelve-tone man.
E: Yes, a very nice man.
L: A Schönberg student?
E: Yes, Schönberg and Berg. The only problem with that was it's left me with a lifelong dislike of twelve-tone music. I use it if I want it for a special effect, because it's really good saving for film or TV music if you really want to bamboozle the audience. You just write a bit of twelve-tone music. It's a good effect, together with an image. But just to listen to? Well...
L: How do you mean, "bamboozle the audience"?
E: Well, there's no sense of tonality, you see? It's the same effect - I'm giving one of my old university lectures - it's the same effect, which would have happened - well I'm sure it happened - when the audience heard the first chord of Tristan und Isolde. This diminished chord.
L: Yes. Half-diminished. Right.
E: Yes. And then they didn't know, "Where are we?" In classical music you had nice tonality, triad[s] and so forth. So, as I said, he was my first piano teacher. So when I got out of school, I found myself in the middle of Yorkshire. I had to learn English all over again. I've had to learn English several times, including in Aberdeen, and in Guyana, and in Australia.
L: I do hear a bit of a Scottish burr, and that explains it, of course.
E: So I got a first job in a rope factory which had no side walls. It was rough. Just a little tin roof. And my job, I had to wet my hand with a sponge and run it along the rope with seisel - I think that's the stuff they put on the ropes, it's like a sort of varnish. Which meant I had permanent chilblains, but at least I had a job. I won't go into the unpleasantnesses of this. But the point is, one day somebody said to me, "Hey, you play the piano, don't you?" I said, "Yuh." "Oh, down in the workingmen's club," this was in a little Yorkshire village, "the pianist has been called up in the army, and they need a pianist. Go down there and sell it to them." And I'd never played a note of jazz in my life, you see. But in order to eat, it's amazing...
L: A baptism of fire.
E: There was a trumpet, an accordion, drums, and a piano. And they put in front of me, you probably remember, these old charts. Not charts. Just piano arrangements, you know, what they used to sell. Songs and words. And all of a sudden, I could play jazz.
L: Ah ha. So, you've written a good deal of jazz, as well as classical music.
E: Yes, and that meant I could get my shoes repaired. And I could eat occasionally a bit more, and so could my mother. You know it sounds funny in retrospect, but it wasn't at the time.
L: Of course.
E: And then, originally I wanted to be a biochemist. Music was always a hobby. Because, perhaps you may have found this attitude, but in Central Europe, especially amongst Jewish parents, the attitude was: "Well, child, yes, music is a nice hobby, but..."
L: But what do you want to do when you grew up?
E: Yes, what are you going to do? Because you can't finish up as a Musikant !
L: A klezmer!
E: I've worked with klezmers. I think they're marvelous. So I got a job in a research laboratory and eventually, when I was 16, I started running my own little band. First of all just to earn a bit more money. And then I got really interested. And then by the end of the Second World War I decided to make this a fulltime career. I joined Big Bands. That was in the days of the Big Bands. Pamela saw Glenn Miller walking in Plymouth and she photographed him. Unfortunately we've lost it. So that was the swing era of the big bands, and I used to do a lot of accompanying for the BBC - anything. I think one of the reasons I was never out of work was I could sort of play anything - jazz, swing, Mozart... Anything. I've never wanted to be a concert pianist. I've never had that particular ambition. So that's fine. And you know as a pianist in a band you're asked to do arrangements, so that led to a lot of arranging work and conducting work, and so forth.
L: You actually heard Helene's uncle, Walter Gross play?
E: Yes, yes. This is many, many years ago. In fact, I cannot remember any more now whether this was some shot from a little documentary, or whatever it was. But I do remember Walter Gross and he was playing a big organ. Electric organ. And the reason I remember this: because at one stage, I found out very quickly, unfortunately, or rather fortunately, I was being credited royalties for "Tenderly." It was written: "Gross - 'Tenderly'" I had to say "I'm sorry! I wish I had, but it wasn't [mine]." I had to give it back.
L: What year was that? Do you remember?
E: Oh, many, many years ago.
L: I wrote a piece called "I Believe," which was about Emma Goldman, the anarchist.
E: But there's another "I Believe."
L: And I've been credited with royalties for that.
E: I tell you, it happened to me this last financial year. There's one psalm I wrote, Psalm 154 [sic: 150], which everybody has set. I've already set it twice. That was for a performance at St. Andrews' Cathedral. And an Anglican minister had written me a new set of words, a new translation, you see. And we shared it 50-50. It was registered. So eventually, I heard, somebody took out a license to reproduce it - I don't know where - in the States. Hundreds or thousands of copies. And I got a few thousand dollars. And I looked at it, how the check is made [out]. It should have been 50-50. They had paid me a 100%. I found out. And you know the trouble with accountants is they've got no imagination. The easiest thing would have been for me to send it back - the half that didn't belong to me. That would have been easy.
L: They couldn't do that.
E: O no no! There was a week of consultations, because they all know we're their bread, you see?
So in the end it was decided I could keep that money, but they've got to deduct over the next few years. So I'm going to really screw [up] the income tax [people].
L: You've set Psalm 154 [sic: 150] two times.
E: Twice. Yes. Once for unaccompanied choir. That was published. That was printed by Leeds Music, which was later taken over by MCA. And once just recently now. That was for St. Andrews' Cathedral here. That was choir and string orchestra and optional solo mandolin.
L: What was the text?
E: Psalm 154. No, 150. Laudate Domini. Praise the Lord. The famous one that Stravinsky set in his Symphony of Psalms.
L: And they were both in English? Or in Latin?
E: In English. That was for the Anglican cathedral here. I don't think Latin would have been approved of there.
L: Have you done settings in Hebrew?
E: No. In fact, I think the reason for that is that nobody ever asked me. You see, I had a friend here, Alex, that ran the synagogue choir at, was the North Bondi Synagogue? That's right. And we used to have musical evenings, and play the piano. But the problem is, as I'm sure I don't have to tell you this, with a Jewish synagogue, nobody wants to hear new music. And secondly, with a Jewish choir, everybody wants to be a soloist. So I've never written any music for synagogue. But a friend of mine, Michael Deutsch, he's a cantor - he's retired now - at Temple Emanuel. I don't know whether you've met him.
E: You've met him?
L: No, I haven't met him. But I know his successor, Joseph Toltz. At Temple Emanuel in Woollahra?
E: Is he the one that came from South Africa?
E: Well anyway I'll tell you what happened there. That was some years ago. And the ABC decided to put on a dramatized version of the epic of Sumer and Gilgamesh. So they asked me to write some incidental music - which are very interesting - to the text. And I thought, "Now what can I find which is the oldest instrument in Australia?" 'cause I only had a few days to do this. And obviously we couldn't use the didjeridoo. That wouldn't work. Then eventually of course I remembered Michael. So I phoned Mike. I said, "Michael, do you still play your shofar?" He said, "Yes." I said, "What notes do you play?" He'd only played it for about 40 years or so. "O I don't know." So I said, "Play them for me over the telephone." I found out it was an E-flat, a D and a D-flat. So I managed to sort of work this in. I said "When I point at you," - I was conducting - "When I point at you, you play, and then stop...." So we did.
L: You used it in Gilgamesh.
L: That's the first time you used a shofar.
L: You've written for didjeridoo, though, I know.
E: Sort of. Look, you know, it's difficult. George Dreyfus. He's a Jewish composer. Have you met George?
E: O I see you've met him!
L: Yes, he's quite a character. On my last day in Melbourne.
E: Bad luck.
L: What a character! And you I'm meeting on my last day in Sydney! Why bad luck?
E: He's a very nice fellow, but you can't have a short conversation with him.
L: Yes, that's true. He's quite fascinating. Of course he was one of only 17 who came over...
E: From Braunschweig?
L: No. Wuppertal.
E: That's right, Wuppertal.
L: And he and his brother were two of only seventeen who came directly to Australia. And they were the only ones in that group to be reunited with their parents. You had your mother...
E: in England. She came via Switzerland. Well, old George, yes, he's used the didjeridoo with a wind quintet. On that recording, there's a little trio of mine. You see, there's a bit of a difficulty using didjeridoo. But one of these days I'll get around to it somehow.
L: But you have used it.
E: Just occasionally, but not to any extent.
L: You haven't written a concerto for didjeridoo?
E: No. Trevor Jones, he died many years ago, he was a professor at Monash University in Melbourne. I think he did a lot of work on the didjeridoo. Whether in fact he finished up or not I don't know. I know he did a lot of research on it.
L: And you've written one opera.
E: The Amorous Judge.
L: Tell us about that.
E: Well, you see it's again the sort of thing that happens when you're a little child. Things stick in your mind. There was a famous German film actor, Emil Jannings And I was quite small in Vienna - I saw this film, Der zerbrochene Krug by Kleist.
L: "The Broken Jug."
E: Yes. And that sort of stuck with me. And when I had the opportunity [to write an opera], I thought, "I want to do this" at Sydney University.
L: So The Amorous Judge is based on Der zerbrochene Krug?
E: You see, the point is, a title, "The Broken Jug" or "The Broken Pitcher" - it doesn't work in English. So we called it The Amorous Judge.
L: You know there's a Kleist Museum in Frankfurt-an-der-Oder. Have you been there?
E: No, I haven't been there, but I know about it. You know, Kleist, amongst Jewish people, he's one of the Righteous Gentiles.
L: Why? Because of Penthesilea?
E: No. What's the other one? Nathan der Weise?
L: No, that's Lessing.
E: Are you sure?
E: All right. Well anyway, Kleist certainly used...
L: But Kleist's works have been made into operas. Die Marquise von O was of course a famous film, but my teacher Elie Siegmeister's last opera was The Marquesa of O, set in Mexico, and in fact we did some excerpts from it in Germany - I had it translated into German - but the opera as a whole has never been produced. Only 4 or 5 excerpts have been done. So, tell me about this opera. Who is the librettist? McGlashan?
E: Len McGlashan. At that time he was a colleague of mine. He was in the German Department at Sydney University. And he was also good as a musician, so he had a feeling for music, and he did the libretto for us. And in those days, this was in '64 or '65, whenever it was, I had done a lot of work, through arranging and conducting, with what were then the leading singers from the Australian Opera - the previous two or three generations ago. And I got what were the best singers - in fact Alan Light was here only yesterday; he's 85.
L: Is there a recording?
E: I've got a CD. We transferred it. You see, it was just one of those things. What happened was that on the last night, I got a friend of mine - he also played the timps - he was the music director of what was then called Commonwealth Film Unit in Australia - they made documentaries - I used to do a lot of scores for them - we stuck a microphone above the stage. And it came out... not bad.
L: Is it a one-act? Or a full-length?
L: I would love to see it. I'm the Editor of Opera Today.
E: I don't have too many discs, but I can give you one.
L: Can I have a look at the score?
E: I'll try and find it for you. It's somewhere up in a cupboard.
L: 'cause we're always looking for interesting things like that. The Center for Contemporary Opera is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and we've done a lot of American and Canadian works. I don't think we've done an Australian work.
E: Well, in fact that recording, on reel-to-reel tape, was done in '65, and only a couple of years ago I managed to get it transferred onto CD, and we extracted one particular aria - and it's been played on the radio.
L: How large a cast is it?
E: Nine. There's no chorus, and no change of scenery. And as I said, it came about because that story had been with me ever since I was a boy. That's how these things happen.
L: "The Shepherd of Bethlehem" is based on what? The New Testament?
E: Yes, the New Testament. You see, at that time, amongst other things I used to conduct the Choral Society of St. Andrews Cathedral, which is that big Anglican cathedral next to the Town Hall in the city. And the previous conductor had to go away and I don't know for 7 or 8 years I conducted them.
L: St. Andrews Cathedral in Sydney?
L: And I think you mentioned that your wife's brother is...
E: He was a priest in England. A Catholic priest.
E: O no, he's in England. We are sort of Ecumenical here. We've got everything. So I wrote quite a few works for there. They seemed to be quite interested in having new works. Indeed the then presenter, Kennan Bartlett, in fact he was the one who wrote me the new words for Psalm 150, he was a fine organist/composer himself, so we did this - it's a Christmas Cantata. For the original version I had an army band - the Eastern Command Army Band in the cathedral, and a boys' choir, a girls' choir, soloists, a little orchestra....
L: A Christmas Cantata.
E: Yes, it was a sort of stereophonic effort, all around the cathedral.
L: Wonderful. And you've also been working with Paul and Adrian Hooper.
E: The mandolinists. They run the Sydney Mandolins. Again it's very interesting. Until I met them, it wouldn't have occurred to me to do anything much with mandolins, because the only time I had ever used mandolins was when I had to occasionally arrange Italian music. You know, "O Sole Mio" and that sort of schmalz. But they'll try anything. In fact they challenge one to write something which they can't play. And I haven't been able to do that yet. And I've written a considerable amount of mandolin and plectrum music for them.
L: What does "Dusekiana" refer to?
E: Ah, that's again a long story.
E: In 1967, when I was on sabbatical from Sydney University, I went back to Aberdeen, my first alma mater, and I did some research and enrolled there for a research degree. And one of the things I had to write [was] a symphony - it was my First Symphony which I wrote there. And we also had to do some research project. And various things were put in front of me. And the one which appealed to me was the task of making an edition of the string quartets of Frantisek Xavier Dusek. Now Frantisek Dusek was Mozart's friend. His wife was Josepha, who locked Mozart in the summer house and wouldn't let him out until he'd written that little aria for her. We visited that house in Prague. And they also looked after Mozart's children for a few years, after Wolfgang died - until Constanza and Georg Nikolaus von Nissen got together. Dusek by himself wasn't a particularly great composer, but he seems to have been a good teacher. You see there's any number of Duseks. There's a lot of confusion. Anyway, there were no scores extant. There were only sets of parts, all over the place. And by sheer chance, there was also, in 1967, an ISCM conference in Prague, the first one in a Communist country. And usually what we have done in Australia for these conferences, if one of us is in Europe, to save air fares and so forth, or whatever, we represent the country. So we were there, so we drove from Aberdeen in an old Ford Populaire across Europe to Prague. And I presented myself in the National Library there: "Do you have any Dusek scores?" They had a set of parts, which I could copy. But then there were problems because the man who was in charge, a Dr. ___, whose name I forget - now this was in '67 - he was found - he did the usual - he was caught selling manuscripts to Americans. So that was a problem. Anyway, I found this set of parts there, and went back to Aberdeen and scored them up. I had to make some corrections, because there was hardly any dynamics or phrasing or anything else. And I thought it was just nice and finished. I did me other things. And we came back to Sydney because I had to start work again, and I was going to write it out neat and send it back to Aberdeen. Well, just before I did this, H.G. Robbins-Laddon had published an article, and it showed incipits of string quartets by a composer, Giorgio Hadon, who never existed of course, and I recognized them immediately: These were the Dusek string quartets.
L: Where did that name come from?
E: He invented it.
L: Who invented it?
E: Some publisher in Paris. They used to do these things. You know, they used to pinch composers' works, give them a different name, and print them.
L: What an incredible story!
E: Yes. So of course it slowed me up, because I now had to get this other set of parts and score them up underneath, and then try and compare. So in the end, I kept getting rude letters from Aberdeen, and one day Pamela and me and my mother, we had to sort out all the pages and get them sent back to Aberdeen. And what happened? Those string quartets, they're not very good. But in the slow movements there's a really beautiful first violin solo, with just pum-pum-pum - nothing in the other parts. So I thought I could do something with this - my tribute to Dusek, you see? And at that time we had a violin student who needed some works for his examination concerts, so I took three of the best ones, and I arranged them for a small orchestra, and they've been performed in Prague, in Lidice, in Soflia(?), and all sorts of places.
E: And there are three of them. The ABC played them occasionally. They have what they call a house disc, you know, which is not for public sale, but they use them.
L: That's a wonderful story. Really delightful. Let's see, what else did I want to ask you. Have you been to Israel?
E: Yes. Many years ago. It must have been before '67. I know it must have been before '67. Somehow they wrote me from Haifa University or somewhere, could I write some music courses? I think they were starting some things. Which rather surprised me, you know, with all the Jewish musicians there. Anyway, it was easy enough. I wrote them some courses, and we visited the university, and we had a week in Jerusalem and other things. Unfortunately, prior to that we had been to Rome, and my Italian was better than it is now, but I heard on the radio, saying, Be careful - there's an Asian flu epidemic around. And as soon as we got to Jerusalem I caught it. I was that weak. I was on my hands and knees. I couldn't sit up. Pam had to help me up, and then of course she got it afterwards.
L: In Jerusalem?
E: Yes. Just by coincidence. So we didn't do as much as we wanted to. So we've been there.
L: Just the one time?
E: Yeah. You see, at the end of '67, before we'd been to Jerusalem we'd been in Rome for a week. Now that's another story. You remember that time in the '60s when there was Pope John XXIII and we had Khrushchëv - and Stalin had died - and Kennedy, and 'most everybody had a lot of hope? And I got hold of "Pacem in Terris," which was a papal encyclical, and I picked out the words, the bits of texts which really appealed to me - you know the revolutionary ones. And we did the performance at the university in Sydney. For that we had Marilyn Richardson. I don't know if you remember her. She's retired now. A great soprano. And Alan Light also, and trombones from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. And again it's one of those things. We stuck one microphone down in the middle, and the papal nuncio came to see us from Canberra. And to make a long story short, the idea was, we'd go to Rome, and perhaps see if we can arrange a performance there. The problem with that was, by the time we got there, Pope John XXIII had died, so "Pacem in Terris" was a victim of pat Vatican politics. But nevertheless, the nuncio there said he would meet us at the airport and fix up accommodation. Of course we arrived at Rome airport and Monsignor Tricarico was nowhere to be seen. "Dove è Monsignor Tricarico?" "Non so." Anyway, eventually we found ourselves some accommodation in the Via Traetta. The name appealed to me. Traetta was a famous Italian opera composer. It must have been built, well not in the days of the Roman Empire - perhaps the Holy Roman Empire. You switched on the light and the water ran. You switched on the water and the gas came on. It was one of those things, you see? Anyway, so we did that. And then once we got settled down, I said, "Please, I need to phone the Vatican." And of course they had a listing on the back. Monsignor Teratico apologized. Unbeknown to us, because he worked in the Secretariat of State, at the same time President Johnson had arrived, so he had no time for musicians. He couldn't. So we arranged to meet the next day. And OK so he said you go to Porta da Bronzo - Bronze Gate Palace - and they'll send a car for us, and it drove us around, and chauffeured us around then. So that was very interesting. And then I apologized to Pam, I couldn't get her a private audience with the Pope, but we got tickets for the midnight mass, you see? And she said to me, "Take the camera." I said "No no, you can't do that," but of course little did we know that they're applauding and taking flash pictures all the time through the service. But that's of no... As a Jew, I don't do that. Anyway, so we did that.
L: A propos, as it were, do you have children?
L: So you haven't had that question of how you'd raise them, I guess.
E: No. And quite frankly, I don't think I'd want to have that on my conscience to bring children into the world who'd have to go through life as Jews. I was lucky. I've been a survivor. And this is no problem here. But we have our problems here. Only in Australia they're swept under the table, with things like Pauline Hansen.
L: Like what?
E: We had a lady politician who's now retired, named Pauline Hansen. I think you'll find, if there's one thing the Jewish community is united on, it was about the danger of Pauline Hansen. Because if you looked it up on Internet, she was the pinup girl of the Ku Klux Klan and things. So, I wouldn't want to be disturbing you, but....
L: Have you - you talked about Michael Deutsch - have you maintained contact with the Jewish community here?
E: To some extent. Mostly music people. Because through my work occasionally, there used to be a friend of ours, Werner Baer (?) - he used to be music supervisor for the ABC New South Wales. He also used to play the organ at temple. He died some years ago. And after Werner died, the Jewish Board of Deputies for music, you know: "Would you help us out?" as a sort of Jewish composer to do things. And yes, the Jewish Board of Studies, they had a thing in Parliament House, and I wrote this little piece of Jewish music for school concert band, Moriah College.
L (reading plaque): "The Voice of the Community." That's really nice. What was the name of the piece you wrote?
E: What did I call it? "Anniversary Fantasy." For that particular occasion.
L: And what was it scored for?
E: For school band. You know, concert band.
L: O I see. It was an instrumental piece, then.
E: An instrumental piece. And it was performed in the House of Representatives, in Parliament.
L: That's wonderful. Did it use Hebraic themes?
E: No, Jewish stuff. Dum-da-pum-pa-pum-pa.
L: Jewish wedding music. Klezmer
E: Klezmer music. I've worked with klezmers, so...
L: Did the piece have a life after that?
E: Yes, another school wanted it. An Anglican school. So I gave it a slightly different ending, and a slightly different finish. And I called it "Anniversary Fantasy Revisited."
L: I see. That was when? In '75?
L: Great. One other piece I looked at in the Australian Music Centre was - you'll have to help me pronounce it.
E: "Na Shledanou v Praze." OK. That's another story.
E: In 1967 we had been made very welcome by our Czech musician friends, and I think partly that was due because they were glad to see people from non-Communist countries. Things were brewing - it was only a year before the Prague Spring. And also me being Viennese, and I think it goes back to the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. Every Viennese has either got Hungarian relations and Czech friends, or Czech relations and Hungarian friends and neighbors. And on my mother's side, my grandmother spoke Czech. So there's a little bit of Czech in me. And we like Prague anyway. So then an Australian conductor, Patrick Thomas, who's now retired - he used to conduct a lot of contemporary music - he was invited to do a concert in Olomuc in Moravia, where even now they have members of Parliament whose policy is they want to rejoin Austria. Yes, they're more Austrian than the Austrians. And in fact in the Cathedral in Olomuc, where the organist is a friend of mine, there's a stained-glass window, and Emperor Franz Josef sits up there. And I never knew this, but apparently when there was this Austrian revolution - what was it '48  or something? - he got kicked out of Vienna, he was crowned Emperor there, in Olomuc. Anyway, to cut a long story short, Patrick conducted a concert there, and he wanted a new piece. So I though, "Right, we'll do this." And I also knew that outside Olomuc there was a garrison of about 60,000 Russian troops. So I thought, "Well, how can we make a little bit of a protest?" And then I worked out, what Smetana had done and Dvorak had done they couldn't stop me from doing. I used for my main theme the very, very beautiful Czech national anthem.
L: The "Moldau"?
E: No, that's "Hatikvah." It's very similar to the Yugoslav anthem and the Polish anthem. It's an old Slavic theme. And Smetana had done it, and Dvorak had done it, of course as protest against the Austrians. So I did this.
L: As protest against the Russians.
E: And of course the Russians were too stupid. They didn't know what it was. But of course the orchestra knew and the audience knew, so it went extremely well. And as a result of that I was asked to write a violin concerto for a first performance there a couple of years after, and after that an oboe concerto, which also got a first performance there. So that's how these things came about.
L: Did you have them recorded in Olomuc?
E: Yah, I've got them on tape. Yes, and they've been broadcast as well.
L: Do you know a company named Vienna Modern Masters? They record in Olomuc.
E: Yes, Betty Beath in Brisbane and Mary Mageau have their works recorded by Vienna Modern Masters. A lot of them are recorded in Bratislava.
L: And in Olomuc.
E: And in Olomuc, yeah. So that's how these things came about.
L: So what does the title mean?
E: "Na Shledanou v Praze," it simply means "Auf Wiedersehn in Prag." And of course it took me a long time to get a copy of the local review out of them, in Czech. They were embarrassed to send it to me. It was written by a local Communist official. Eventually I got this: "How dare this Australian composer use our beautiful anthem in this..."
L: O my God!
E: Well I was laughing of course, you see?
L: Well I hope they don't do that with me when we perform "Waltzing Matilda" as the counterpoint to Edith Speers' "Love Sonnet 9" which opens my Australian Odyssey. It was done in Melbourne and the ABC recorded it!
E: No, no.
L: They won't mind my quoting it?
E: No. "Waltzing Matilda" everybody has. It's international. Except I found out some years ago, because I did some arrangements for 3 clarinets, or 2 cor anglais and oboe, Australian double reeds or Australian single reeds, of 6 or 7 folksongs - Peter Tonger in Germany, they published this in Cologne - and I checked with "Waltzing Matilda," and the music's fine, but apparently somebody in American had copyrighted the words or something. So you've got to be careful.
L: O that's funny. Well, we didn't use any of the words.
E: This may have expired. This is a few years ago. But you've got to be careful. And of course apparently questions were being asked in Olomuc - I was told this by the Minister for Culture, or whatever it was - "How come this Australian composer is getting three first performances or four first performances in Olomuc all of a sudden? What's going on?" And apparently when they had this revolution there, I managed to get through on the phone to my friends in Olomuc, and apparently my name was shouted out over the loudspeaker in the squares: "From Australia, we support you!" If the Communists really come in we'll never be able to come back, do you reckon?
L: Was that the last time you were in Prague, in '67?
E: No we've been a number of times, in '91, '93. What we've done, a number of times, is, if we're there for any length of time, say at least a month in Europe or so, we contact Renault Australia, that's the French car makers, and you pay them a sum depending on how long you have the car, and you pick up a brand new car either in Paris or Munich or something, drive it around, and just give it back. So that gives us the freedom.