Colin Duckworth photographBiography

George Dreyfus
Don’t Ever Let Them Get You!
A compilation of essays by and about eminent Australian composer George Dreyfus,
including a complete catalogue of works


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Herald Sun article
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George Dreyfus was born in Wuppertal, Germany in 1928. He left Germany in 1939 and settled in Australia. He was educated at Melbourne High School and later at the Vienna Academy of Music. After eighteen years as an orchestral musician he became a freelance composer in 1965. His compositions include music for film and television, operas, musicals and other works for the stage, symphonies, chamber music and music especially composed for children.

His many appointments include Composer-in-Residence at the German Academy in Rome, Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem, the University of Potsdam and the Conservatoriums in Beijing, Tienjing and Nanjing, China.

George Dreyfus’s awards include the Creative Arts Fellowship (Australian National University, Canberra); the Don Banks Fellowship; the Henry Lawson prize for Outstanding Services to the Arts; the Order of Australia ; Bundesverdienstkreuz 1. Klasse; the UNESCO, U.S. State Department and Myer Foundation travel grants.

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At 80 George is still in a rush

At 80 George is still in a rush
Colin Vickery
Herald Sun, 18 August 2008

One of our best-loved composers is celebrating his 80th birthday.

Composer George Dreyfus is a survivor. As a child, he escaped the Nazi uprising in Germany by fleeing to Australia. As an adult, he has built a distinguished career in the tough and uncertain world of classical music.

Now he is set to mark his 80th birthday with a gala concert that features many of his most celebrated compositions, as well as guest appearances by jazz great Paul Grabowsky and actor Sigrid Thornton.

As we sit in the music room of his Melbourne home, it’s time to reflect on a life that so far has included an Order of Australia (1992) and awards from UNESCO (1966), the Myer Foundation (1975), the Prix de Rome (1976) and the Australia Council (1991).

It has also given us one of our most beloved, stirring pieces of music, the Theme from Rush, which is still played across the country to great audience delight.

‘My only achievement is that I haven't disappeared,’ Dreyfus says with customary self-deprecation.

Dreyfus arrived in Australia with his brother, Richard, on his 11th birthday, in 1939. His parents, Alfred and Hilde, followed six months later.

Piano lessons and singing in the synagogue choir led to clarinet in the Melbourne High School orchestra and then bassoon at Melbourne University’s Conservatorium of Music.

‘I was thrown out after a year, but I won in the end,’ he laughs.

In 1948, at 20, he landed his first paying music job - in the orchestra at His Majesty’s Theatre, accompanying musicals, ballet and opera.

‘It was heaven,’ he says. ‘My father had a carpet-cleaning business and he wanted me to become a carpet cleaner too, but I didn't want to become a carpet

Nine years later, Dreyfus joined the ABC's Melbourne Symphony Orchestra but bucked at what he considered to be the mediocre music he was forced to play. It was then he decided to compose his own, drawing on the influences of Beethoven, Brahms, Stravinsky and Mendelsohn. His first piece was Trio Opus 1 (1956) for flute, clarinet and bassoon, which will feature in his 80th birthday concert.

But serious classical music was never going to pay the bills and Dreyfus credits filmmaker Tim Burstall with reinvigorating his career when he commissioned him to do the music for the 13-part ABC children’s series Sebastian the Fox. Since then he has scored more than 50 films, TV series and documentaries.

Dreyfus remains unapologetic for his populist output.

‘It's not necessarily the better music, but it's the more successful music,’ he says.

Dreyfus is back writing for children and a major new work, Sonny’s Luck, the score to Tim Burstall’s children’s film, The Prize, is set to premiere at the 80th birthday concert.

Son Jonathan will conduct the piece.

Dreyfus says he couldn’t have survived as a composer if he hadn’t been market-oriented all his life.

‘Music has it tough in this country compared with painting or literature,’ he says. ‘Most artists go through life saying, ‘I haven't been acknowledged,’ but then I look at things like Rush and that cheers me up.’

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