Quadrant Music

Reviving Authenticity

In Canberra, the Senate is holding an inquiry into Quadrant Music’s de facto nemesis: the Commonwealth’s new national cultural policy, Revive: A Place for Every Story, a Story for Every Place. The inquiry has received seventy-five wide-ranging submissions from industry leaders, national organisations and independent stakeholders. In March, Quadrant Music revealed how questions about Revive essentially went unanswered by the Department of Arts. It follows, then, that my column this month should explore those submissions made to the inquiry concerning music. Collectively, these submissions traverse much ground; the subsequent analysis highlights those arising matters which I deem to be of particular interest. On the whole, readers should find cause for agreement, but they should also find cause for concern—and, at times, for outrage.

A preliminary observation must be noted, and that is that no submission offered by any institution chiefly represents the interests of Australian art music composers. The submission from the Australasian Performing Right Association and the Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society (APRA AMCOS) (submission number 47) offers art music composers little comfort. Similarly, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s submission (number 35) makes no mention of art music—or even the more antiquated term, classical music. All that is stated is: “The ABC has a rich history in supporting local Australian musicians by featuring artists, composers, and emerging talent through the music networks of ABC Classic, ABC Jazz …” Four sentences then follow detailing the importance and success of triple j. The Australian Music Centre, which affirms its “mission is a commitment to the representation, advocacy, promotion and support of Australian composers and their music”, made no submission, further suggesting to those watching the organisation that its priorities are shifting.

Alexander Voltz and Quadrant Music appear in every edition.
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Of late, I have been giving some thought to what a composer, today, actually is. There is, of course, an immediate distinction between the commercial composer and the art music composer. The former produces, as if he were, metaphorically, within the ecosystem of some factory, assembling parts for market in pursuit purely of a wage. The latter, however, expresses; his is not a job but, rather, a kind of spiritual vocation, an overwhelming urge to create that ignores questions of rationality and economic security. But even these designations—informed principally by the creator’s motivations, not whatever be the outcome, perceived or tangible, of his creation—are, sadly, still not specific enough. There are many who currently claim to be art music composers despite the fact that their own works are less artistic expressions than they are commercial products. Worse, the work of some art music composers is, in fact, ghostwritten by commercial orchestrators. Such work is neither an artistic expression nor even a product conceived for commercial purposes. It is, simply, a lie.

This crisis of truth is the more deep-seated dilemma. Ultimately, the solution resides with the authentic composer. The authentic composer armours his relentless pursuit for knowledge in honesty. He explores the past and discerns his findings from the present, closely studying what relationships exist between the historical and the contemporary. The future concerns him less. He is as reluctant to force innovation upon his work as he is to succumb to imitation. Rather, aesthetic quality, with its mathematical foundations, is of chief importance to him. He understands the distinction between what constitutes craft and what constitutes style. He recognises, and fears, how his extra-musical inspirations might so easily morph into crutches. He is neither island nor barcode; it is responsible individualism that beats in his heart.

Australia is home to the many legacies of authentic composers, including but not at all limited to Brenton Broadstock, Barry Conyngham, Don Kay, Peter Sculthorpe, Peter Tahourdin, Malcolm Williamson and Julian Yu. Yu ventured to Tanglewood in his student days, and so successful was his debut that Leonard Bernstein exclaimed, “You f***ing genius!”—but when was the last time a domestic symphony orchestra ennobled itself with the music of this great Australian? We have done a poor job of preserving our authentic musical giants.

All this serves to highlight Revive’s greatest general shortcoming. My opinion is that Australia’s national cultural policy should predominantly champion a hierarchy that puts Australian art first, Australian artists closely second, and Australian arts infrastructure third. This is not at all to imply that the health of arts infrastructure is unimportant. But Revive would seem to prioritise Australian arts infrastructure—existing, large-scale national institutions and bureaucracies—at the expense of independent artists and, even more so, of art itself. Submissions lodged to the Senate’s inquiry broadly share this view. For instance, Ruth Hazelton (number 6) and Dr Peter Vadiveloo (number 40) noted their distress in response to an online seminar hosted by Creative Australia on February 9, titled “In Conversation with The Music Network”. Among its line-up of presenters, the seminar did not feature a “single working musician”. MusicSA fears that “smaller capital city centres, regional and remote areas could be deprioritised if the advice being provided [through Revive] is largely from … larger national businesses” (number 67).

It is true that of Revive’s five policy pillars, “Strong Cultural Infrastructure” is only the fourth. Yet it is also clear from the publicised framework that the Commonwealth intends to implement Revive’s other four pillars—(1) “First Nations First”; (2) “A Place for Every Story”; (3) “Centrality of the Artist”; and (5) “Engaging the Audience”—through national institutions and programs. A strong argument could be made that this is all the Commonwealth can and should do. Naturally, however, some stakeholders are suspicious of an Australian arts policy predicated upon centralisation, not individualism.

For authentic composers of art music, this suspicion should only heighten. There is immense pressure upon Revive to adopt a pre-eminently commercial agenda. Live Performance Australia (LPA) submits that the new national advocacy and funding body Music Australia “should have a clear mandate for building effective relationships across the whole contemporary music sector, including a strong focus on commercial outcomes for all industry stakeholders” (number 2). APRA AMCOS’s submission discusses composers only in the context of creating soundtracks for “the next great film or game”. The Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) goes as far as to call for a “shift to a commercial focus to grow and develop the Australian music industry”, and for Music Australia to emphasise “bold targets and … successful commercial outcomes” (number 57). An independent submission by Tim Hollo (number 17) summarises the converse point succinctly: “[Revive] fails to understand what artistic work actually is—seeing it through a commercial lens of creation of product for sale”. Indeed, this is why ascriptions of authenticity are so vital; art musicians should not seek to devalue the work of commercial musicians, nor vice versa. Both should work together to defend quality art, as well as to decry malice and pretence. I hasten to add that art music itself is not antithetical to commercial viability, and that it has enormous potential to generate wealth for both practitioners and investors.

If Revive puts the bureaucracies of national institutions first, it goes on to subordinate merit and quality to artists’ biological and sociocultural identities. The concept of merit requires no contextualisation. Quality in composition, as has been discussed in past issues of Quadrant Music, is the synthesis of a composer’s craft and style. Loosely, this holds true for any artistic medium. The word quality, insofar as I term it and have previously termed it, is not explored throughout Revive. Affording today’s government ministers the licensing powers once wielded by Sydney’s Colonial Secretaries is not at all my proposition. But if there does rage a protracted war between authenticity and inauthenticity then maybe the Commonwealth should play some kind of mediating role—and not necessarily legislatively, either. In any case, arts policies predicated on race would seem to do more to enable inauthenticity than they would authenticity.

Revive’s first pillar “recognis[es] and respect[s] the crucial place of First Nations stories at the centre of Australia’s arts and culture” and commits to “implement[ing] the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full”. The ABC, almost predictably, encourages Music Australia to “expand its scope to include a focus on First Nations music”, so as to place “First Nations artists, stories and work at the centre of Australian cultural life”.  APRA AMCOS wants “direct investment in First Nations music” to be “central to and prioritised throughout all new programs and activity”. Spotify, in its submission (number 22), supports the “central place given to First Nations communities” in Revive. More broadly, Symphony Services Australia (SSA) believes “equity should be central to the arts and creative sectors” and that its “workforces and leadership” should reflect “diversity” (number 65). Incredibly, ARIA recommends that Music Australia’s leadership positions and advisory committees adopt gender quotas of 40 per cent men, 40 per cent women and 20 per cent “all genders” (including, one imagines, those identifying beyond the realms of male and female). Dr Kevin Murray’s independent submission (number 15) provides a sage summary as to how all this might be interpreted: 

The framework for the report [Revive] seems political. There is an emphasis on giving voice to different interests in the Australian nation, particularly those that are marginalised, including artists themselves. This is essential, but not enough. Of course, there is a craft dimension of all arts. But this is not reflected in the report. Without skill, we are in danger of a cacophony of voices. Art becomes instead another political forum for the interests of the day.

Simply put, the created is more important than the creator, and the creator must have some technique about him; authentic artists understand these two basic principles. By promoting identity at the expense of merit and quality, it becomes very difficult to design sound public policy, let alone sound arts policy. If LPA supports “industry-led … training programs to improve workplace safety” then, surely, such is fraught with danger if diversity and equity inform any course materials. SSA notes the shortage of “talented and proficient local conductors”, proposing “a grants program to fund traineeships” and rectify the deficit. This appears an excellent idea, reminiscent of Keating’s Creative Artists Fellowships, and one which would also seem to suit deserving art music composers whose ambitions are large in scale. But with merit subordinated to identity, just who would receive these grants? The deserving, authentic artist, like Geoffrey Tozer? Or a pseudo-moral mediocrity prepared to use their identity to tick a list of boxes? More and more frequently, the latter seems to prevail. One submission refers to the Australian Greens’ Artist Wage proposal, whereby up to 10,000 of Australia’s estimated 48,000 professional artists would receive $772.60 per week for a full calendar year, or $40,175.20 per annum. Amongst many other questions, who would receive this pension, and would the ultimate qualifier be the quality of the artist’s work or his various characteristics, political or otherwise? 

ARIA’s suggestion that Revive’s Music Australia adopts gender quotas is especially problematic. Because gender quotas have nothing to do with music, they inherently weaken the music institutions that become subjected to them. When music leaders and advisers are appointed not predominantly for their artistic skill but for their identities, it is little wonder the organisations they lead and advise so quickly swagger down extra-musical paths.

There can be no genuine increase in widespread demand for art music, let alone Australian art music, until music education, arts education and general pedagogical practices are radically overhauled. Classroom music, in terms of both its curriculum and the calibre of its teaching, is in a lamentable state; Luke Maffeo argued as much in Quadrant Music last month. As for tertiary music education, the destruction of Australia’s independent conservatoriums through their incorporation into the universities, courtesy of the Dawkins Revolution, has proved a tragedy. It is not clear to me at all that the projection of academia upon music, a discipline that at its core is a discipline of craft, not research, has proved productive. Revive should seek to amend these predicaments, but it does not. The Australian Music Association notes, in its submission (number 31), that the policy “contains no references to music education”. It further asserts there are “particular challenges around provision and resourcing for music education that require policy interventions”. Alberts | The Tony Foundation’s 2021 report, Music Education: Right from the Start, should be adopted by Revive, as the association recommends; it describes the report as the “leading initiative in Australia to address the systemic challenges of music education quality and provision”. Right from the Start, even viewed with my contrarian eye, is hard to fault. The association also laments the “lack of data” surrounding “how many students in Australian schools have access to a quality education in music”. More broadly, MusicACT’s submission (number 59) advocates “a national approach to music industry research”, decrying the “dearth of data” available.

MusicACT also encourages Revive to “export” Australian music internationally. In 1991 Roger Covell declared that the Commonwealth was not interested in Australian composers transcending their regional limitations” and that, as a result, such composers were “equivalent to the international popularity of the wombat and the koala” only.  An alternative approach would seem to be advantageous, for artists as well as for Australia’s cultural prestige. And, as the annals of the twentieth century show conclusively, art can be projected as a soft form of geopolitical power.

In December, I wrote of my concerns about Revive’s commitment to “introduce stand-alone legislation to protect First Nations knowledge and cultural expressions”, and these concerns hold following the Department of Arts’ seeming obfuscation. Appropriately, the Australian Copyright Council’s (ACC) submission (number 28) asks of the Commonwealth, “If the law is to be changed, there should be a problem to be addressed—for example, is the law not meeting the policy objectives?” I fear some have, in the context of Revive and particularly its threats of stand-alone legislation, formulated an ideological answer to this challenge. In any case, ARIA takes a different stance on intellectual property matters, reminding the Commonwealth of its draconian caps on radio licensing fees. As per Section 152(8) of the Copyright Act 1968, Australian radio broadcasters are required to pay no more than 1 per cent of their gross annual revenue to artists and labels. It bemuses me that APRA AMCOS, Australia’s premiere collection agency, is silent on this issue. The ACC clearly states that “a balance between ‘allowing reasonable and equitable use of copyright material’ with the rights of creators and other copyright owners” must be struck. To this end, how an amendment or repeal of Section 152(8) might affect smaller community broadcasters, like the loosely affiliated Music Broadcasting Society stations, should be carefully considered. Advocates for and champions of Australian art music must not be priced out of the radio market.

All in all, the picture painted by all these submissions presents, I think, two camps: those supporters of Revive’s centralised policies disseminated through existing, large bodies; and those supporters of policies that primarily funnel economic relief directly to artists but that remain administered centrally. There is, I contend, a third solution, one which MusicSA freshly hints at: “Unlike other arts sectors, the music industry is an ecosystem of many interrelated small businesses, micro-businesses and sole traders who are based right across the country”. In other words, entrepreneurship, not conformity or dependence, is the gateway to twenty-first-century Australian music making. It may well be that the highest objective of any national cultural policy should not be to control, deliver, employ or fund, but to inspire, and to revive authenticity at that. For now, our attentions must remain fixed upon the Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications, in frosty Canberra.


IN THIS issue of Quadrant Music, Emeritus Professor Malcolm Gillies returns, this time celebrating the anniversaries of Anton Bruckner (1824–1896) and Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951). These two composers are of heightened significance to me. Only the other day I decided to trace my compositional lineage. The chief mentor in my life, from whom I continue to learn, is Brenton Broadstock. Broadstock studied with Donald Freund in Memphis but also Peter Sculthorpe at the University of Sydney. Sculthorpe’s scholarship to Oxford’s Wadham College took him into the classroom of the Austrian-born composer and musicologist Egon Wellesz, particularly reputed for his scholarship exploring Byzantine music. In 1905, Wellesz commenced studies in counterpoint and harmony with, indeed, Arnold Schoenberg at Eugenie Schwarzwald’s school in Zurich. Schoenberg himself was largely self-taught, though Alexander von Zemlinsky, who later became Schoenberg’s brother-in-law, did provide the young cellist with a foundation in counterpoint. Admitted to the Vienna Conservatory in 1884, the Fuchs brothers, Johann and Robert, instructed Zemlinsky in, respectively, composition and theory. But another also taught this Austrian Jew whilst he trained in Vienna: Anton Bruckner. Symphonic music already holds pride of place in my heart; following my antecedents, I suppose I had best get started on my First, so as to reach—and complete—my Ninth. And speaking of unfinished works, Jason Monaghan also reappears in this issue, offering a nuanced reflection on Schubert’s Eighth. Contributions to these pages, as always, remain most welcome.

Alexander Voltz is a composer and the founding editor of Quadrant Music, alexandervoltz@quadrant.org.au

3 thoughts on “Reviving Authenticity

  • Ian MacDougall says:

    QUOTE: “Of late, I have been giving some thought to what a composer, today, actually is. There is, of course, an immediate distinction between the commercial composer and the art music composer. The former produces, as if he were, metaphorically, within the ecosystem of some factory, assembling parts for market in pursuit purely of a wage. The latter, however, expresses; his is not a job but, rather, a kind of spiritual vocation, an overwhelming urge to create that ignores questions of rationality and economic security.” ENDQUOTE.
    When last I looked, there were plenty of women, not just performing, but composing as well. But times change.
    I put it down to that non-lethal, nothing to worry about, don’t let it affect the economy, spurious disease called Covid-19. The trendy misinformation must have scared all those easily-upset artists who are members of the fair sex to death.
    Can’t think of any other reason.

  • Peter Marriott says:

    Good descriptive piece Alexander and your tying together of quite a few threads has still left it easy to follow.
    Composers of music have to have one very important thing I think…a very deep and abiding love of music, in fact to be a really great composer it probably should be pretty well the only thing in their mind day and night, and of course I’m talking about with musical instruments like the piano, violin and organ etc…… not a course, primitive, hollow stick didgeridoo.
    Having read R.J. Stove’s book ‘Cèsar Franck His Life and Times’ it certainly seems to have been the case with him, and no doubt all the earlier great composers ….it seemed their entire life and reason for living. That sort of life, with the right support, could very well bring out any genius inside one….but how many in todays world could possibly be divorced far enough from everything going on around them to reproduce that feeling inside, to have any chance of discovering the genie ?

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