Dr Victoria Rogers is Honorary Associate Professor at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. The quietly spoken but steely professor is the driving force behind a monumental research project on Australian pianist Eileen Joyce. Her initiative has resulted in a catalogued collection housed at UWA, a new book and the release of a 10 CD set of the complete studio recordings by Joyce.
What music gets your heart racing?
Disco music, rap and hip-hop because I can’t stand them!
What calms you down?
Paddling my kayak on the river.
What do you sing along to?
I just prefer to listen.
On December 4th you are launching a new book Destiny: The Extraordinary Career of Pianist Eileen Joyce, co-authored with David Tunley (UWA) and Cyrus Meher Homji (General Manager of Universal Music Australia). How did the book come about?
It goes back to the ARC funding which David Tunley and I won to develop the Eileen Joyce Collection. Joyce herself donated the Collection to the School of Music at UWA, but it needed to be sorted and catalogued. The ARC funding was used to do this in 2006–7. Once that was done I realised we needed to get some research output to justify the ARC funding, so I asked David whether he’d be willing to co-author a book on Eileen Joyce. Fortunately he agreed, though neither of us had any idea that it would prove to be such a fascinating and rewarding project. In fact the research didn’t get under way until 2010, when I used my study leave to travel to the UK to undertake archival research. Soon after we realised that the perfect person to write a chapter on the recordings was Cyrus; we are incredibly fortunate that he agreed to do this because his chapter is a veritable tour de force. And of course Cyrus’s involvement sparked Decca’s release of the Complete Studio Recordings of Eileen Joyce. This is a wonderful ten–CD set that is being launched along with the book.
What was it about Eileen Joyce that sparked your interest?
I knew about her from the time I was a child, though my interest wasn’t really sparked until I began researching and writing the book – and listening to her playing. I became completely captivated by her life story, which is a rags-to-riches story like few others. I was also completely captivated by her playing, which is breathtaking in its clarity and musicality. There’s such youthful exuberance in the early recordings, for example her recording of Grieg’s Papillons, which was made in 1939. She recorded (and performed) much of the great nineteenth-century repertoire that really tugs at the heart strings.
Australians aren’t always good at celebrating our cultural history – particularly the lives of women. But Lyrebird Press is publishing this book and Universal Music is releasing the box set of Eileen Joyce’s complete studio recordings. It is an amazing legacy and a gift for future generations. Why do you think it is so rare that we see our cultural icons being celebrated and remembered like this?
Gosh … I’m not sure. Joyce’s accomplishments certainly have been largely neglected for almost fifty years. I don’t think the neglect is wilful or badly intentioned. I think it’s just that life moves on and cultural icons retire and fade from view. If they’re living overseas, the process is exacerbated. That’s certainly what happened in the case of Eileen Joyce, who drifted out of the public spotlight and out of sight after she left the concert platform in 1960. It’s wonderful that she, and others, are now being exhumed from long neglect.
You spent 15 years as a professional cellist with the WA Symphony Orchestra and as co-principal at the State Orchestra of Victoria. I believe you also have worked with Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge?
Yes, that’s right. I was extremely fortunate to play a season of opera with Sutherland and Bonynge in 1981, during her extended farewell to the main operatic centres of the world. We performed a whole season of Lucia di Lammermoor, first in Melbourne then in Adelaide. It was an extraordinary experience to be so close to Sutherland’s voice, which was incredibly powerful and wonderfully accurate and pure. And of course her singing of the Mad Scene in Lucia was unforgettable … just magic. Bonynge is often placed in a back seat by comparison to Sutherland, but he is also a truly remarkable musician. He has such a singular relationship to the musical beat, in a way that few classical musicians have. Where classical musicians have a strong tendency to push, to anticipate, the beat, Bonynge holds back – and somehow, as a conductor, he is able to persuade the players to follow his lead without making a song and dance about it. I can always identify a Bonynge recording because of his relationship to the beat.
You made the move to post-grad studies in 1996 which led to an appointment as director of the Callaway Research Centre at UWA and subsequently as an academic at UWA. What was the appeal of academic work?
It’s something I’ve always loved doing, and it’s something that seems to come fairly easily to me – which isn’t the case for most other things I do in life! I love unpicking a piece of music to try to work out how it ticks, though of course ultimately the magic of music is beyond analysis. I love doing archival research; you never know what treasures you are going to unearth. It can also take you very deeply into the life of the person you’re researching, as was the case with my research on Peggy Glanville-Hicks. And I love writing. I always have, even back in my time at primary school. It’s so creative. I’m very passionate about music, about research, and about writing; for me that’s the appeal of academic work.
You have a soft spot for Australian women and Eileen Joyce isn’t the first; in 2009 your monograph on Peggy Glanville-Hicks was published by Ashgate and has recently been republished. These books are many years in the making. Why have you dedicated so much time to documenting the work of these artists?
Yes, I do seem to be drawn to female artists. I think the work of talented women needs to be acknowledged and there is still a lot to be done to bring about gender equality in the arts. This is, at least in part, why I’ve dedicated so much time to documenting the work of these artists. Apart from that, they are both fascinating, highly talented women and each has intrigued me in her own way. I got to know PGH a little when she came to Perth in 1984 for the recording of two of her works: the opera The Transposed Heads and the Concerto Romantico for solo viola and orchestra. Memories of the frail but feisty composer led me to make her music the topic of my PhD, which subsequently became a monograph published by Ashgate. As for Eileen Joyce, I’m in awe of her courage, and of her playing. She was extraordinarily courageous – first, to leave Australia at the age of eighteen to go to Leipzig to study, knowing not a soul there and scarcely a word of German. How formidable, too, the Leipzig Conservatoire must have been, a veritable bastion of high German culture. That was in 1926 when the world was a very different place, before globalisation and mass travel and mass communication. Eileen was also very courageous in forging a path for classical artists in the world of film, and in BBC television in the very early days of the BBC. Then there was the colour and glamour she brought to the concert platform; it didn’t endear her to the musical establishment. She really was a trail blazer in many respects. And her playing is magic. Just listen to the recordings. There are few artists with such breathtaking clarity of fingerwork. For me, there’s something truly compelling about her playing.
Where did you learn the skills to be a musicologist?
I’ve had two marvellous teachers, role models and mentors: David Tunley and David Symons. I’m so grateful to them both.
Mark Applebaum says music should above all else be interesting. What do you think is the most important role of music?
It nourishes the soul. It allows one to transcend the everyday and to enter a world of sheer beauty. I can’t imagine life without music; it would be very hollow.
What is your favourite place in Perth?
My home. It’s a lovely 1938 character home with a back garden that is a cave of green. It’s so peaceful. It’s my haven.
Do you have a soft spot for anything else in life or is it all about the music?
I also love bush walking and kayaking.
Thank you Victoria Rogers for championing Australian musical history, and for taking part in Celebrity Soft Spot!
Destiny: The Extraordinary Career of Pianist Eileen Joyce by David Tunley, Victoria Rogers and Cyrus Meher-Homji is published by Lyrebird Press 2017. The book traces Joyce’s fascinating artistic journey from the remote goldfields of Western Australia to the great concert halls of the world.
Members of the public are invited to the launch on Monday 4th December.