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Vale Richard Meale (24 Aug 1932 – 23 Nov 2009)

Richard Meale inspired and influenced several generations of Australian composers through his music as well as his engaging mind. David Worrall and Ross Edwards both studied with Meale – They share some of their personal memories about their passionate teacher on the Australian Music Centre’s Resonate site.

The valedictions.


ailing on my travails
my soul wanders
over withered mores


Yo canto su elegancia con palabras que gimen
y recuerdo una brisa triste por los olivos

(I sing of his elegance with words that groan
and I remember a sad breeze through the olive trees.)

The full text of my valediction follows...

David Worrall's Valediction on the death of his mentor and friend, composer Richard Meale

Even though Richard Meale's death in the early hours of Monday morning was not unexpected - his health had been declining for quite some time - it has come as a shock for those who knew him as the intensely human being that he was.

He was fond of pronouncing in feigned seriousness that he would outlive us all. And still he might, even in his passing. His deep intuition was supported by such a keen intellect that one could rarely guess what position he would take on any of the wide range of subjects that took his interest. Music from many cultures and periods, from opera and gagaku - and all things Japanese - to David Bowie and Tom Waits; from flower arranging to bullfighting; Bishop Berkeley to Wittgenstein; Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Jean Genet, Gertrude Stein and of course Enrique Granados and Federico García Lorca.

Richard Meale was a public figure and a private man. There is much to be written about his music and his role in public life - a task I leave to those more scholarly and objective than I. Except to say that he undertook his public roles - as an academic involved in curriculum reform, as a founding member of the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust and later as a long-term Board Director of APRA - very seriously; I only ever knew him to be well prepared and presented - ready to listen to other's points of view but equally to argue a case when he thought it was warranted, even at the expense of his own health.

This valediction, however, is of the private man: the teacher, the friend. I went to study with him in Adelaide in the early 1970s, on the advice of Ross Edwards, who spoke so warmly of the guidance he had received from Richard and so generously introduced me to him. Following an initial trial by candlelight, in which my commitment to composing was tested, never my talent, the formal lessons were soon abandoned in favour of evening visits a couple of times a week - sometimes with my contemporaries and our partners, but just as often not.

Over the many years I knew him, we argued about everything. To Richard, an argument was a pleasure you engaged in with your friends, else why would you bother? Unfortunately he would sometimes second-guess himself and try to overture a friendship in the same way, and then be surprised when the results were unpleasant. On a personal level, many people found him difficult, obstinate, even cantankerous. Those who loved him did, too, but knew we were with someone very rare, very special. Our passions for contemporary music were often in conflict: his intense need for the lustre of music to be beautiful prevented him from enjoying the Hellenic grandeur of Xenakis, the playful inquisitiveness of electronic music or the relaxation of ego in the aleatoric. During the years I was with him, he transitioned from modernist to mannerist and the metamorphosis was an intensely organic one, in line with his preference for the subjunctive over the symbolic. For me Patrick White's Voss is a chapter conclusion; for him, but a full stop. In private we argued about everything - the more intense the better. As he aged he became susceptible to malintended gossip, but as long as he was sure of your loyalty, he was vigorous!

If Richard developed an interest in something, he was infectious in wanting to engage you to obsess in it with him. It might be a new understanding of an old work. I remember one day listening with him to the opening of Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune at least a dozen times to explore the implications of the pause and its second beginning. But equally it could be the similarities and differences between cooking and composing - he was a fabulous cook - or his passion for the Japanese board game Go, his attempts at beating the early chess machines by playing unusual moves, and his intense competitiveness when engaged with you across the board, often while listening to music. Arnold Bax will forever be linked in my mind with the Sicilian Defence in which Black, along with the contrabassoon and bass clarinet, is playing for advantage not just equality.

On reflection, his enormous commitment to mentoring many of us is a legacy of his intense communalism and generosity of spirit. Richard was very aware of his position as a recipient of a tradition going back through Winifred Burston, Busoni, Liszt, Carl Maria von Weber and Gluck, and his desire to help us find what it was in us that made us want to compose was so empowering. Through all this, Richard drew out of us how to be composers with an intensity most of us couldn't have done ourselves. Apart from his fabulous music, this generosity of time and spirit will be carried by many of us in our music and our mentoring. As Lorca writes, and to which Richard refers in those astonishing final pages of his Homage:

Yo canto su elegancia con palabras que gimen
y recuerdo una brisa triste por los olivos

(I sing of his elegance with words that groan
and I remember a sad breeze through the olive trees.)

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