|5 November 2017 3.30pm|
Glebe Music Festival
In conjunction with The Glebe Society Inc
University of Sydney
JOHNSTON CENTENARY RECITAL
Great Hall, Sunday 5 November 2017 3.30pm
Amy Johansen is University Organist and Carillonist at the University of Sydney, playing the organ in the Great Hall and the 54-bell War Memorial Carillon for graduation ceremonies, recitals, and special events. She has appeared as organ soloist and accompanist with many ensembles including the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Canberra Symphony Orchestra, The Sydney Philharmonia Choir, Sydney Chamber Choir and the Australia Ensemble. Recital tours as both organist and carillonist have included the USA, UK, Europe and New Zealand and across Australia. Her performances have been broadcast on American Public Radio's Pipedreams, the ABC and the BBC, and she has made several CD recordings, available on the Move and Pro Organo labels. Two CDs (Great Hall Grandeur and Carillon and Organ: Musical celebrations from the University of Sydney) feature the University’s two largest musical instruments, the organ and carillon.
Norman Johnston Centenary
The relative weights of continental European, vis-a-vis British influences on music-making in Sydney have frequently been the subject of lively discussion. At such times Norman Johnston, the third appointed University Organist whose birth centenary occurs on 10 November, comes immediately to mind. When he first came to Australia in 1933 for schooling at Shore the other boys believed him to be French which was hardly surprising given that he had never previously had to speak English. Norman had been born in New Caledonia, a French colony, to an Australian father and a French mother. French was the medium of his early education and piano lessons but Norman was neither French nor British; he identified strongly as Australian and sounded miffed when asked what passport he travelled under – “Australian, of course.” And had he fought in the Second World War with the RAF or the RAAF? “The RAAF, naturally”.
Despite Norman’s assured Australian identity he absorbed cultural influences from a variety of sources. Michelangelo was a major inspiration. Norman’s music teachers were French, British and Australian and his musicianship was nourished by them all. At Shore he was influenced by the chapel organist, RGH Walmsley from Keble College, Oxford and his daughter, Beryl White, who taught Norman piano. “That is where it all began,” said Norman of the Australian origins of his ambition to become a musician. The chapel organ was the first he ever played. After leaving Shore in 1934 Norman had organ lessons from Lilian Frost, organist at Pitt Street Congregational Church for over fifty years. Frost had studied in Paris with Charles-Marie Widor. She had also studied in London with Walter Alcock but it was Frost’s playing of French repertoire, not least Vierne’s first and fifth organ symphonies, that attracted Norman.
Lilian Frost’s studies in Paris have sometimes been seen as a radical departure from the normal professional development pathway with London as its destination though in fact she was no radical. H.G. Harrison White, organist at St John’s Bishopthorpe, Glebe went to Paris to study with Guilmant in 1894. As Sydney City Organist, Ernest Truman who had studied in Leipzig as well as London, played the Widor organ symphonies at a series of Town Hall concerts in 1921-22. George Faunce Allman met Widor in Paris in the 1920s and came away very much impressed. All Sydney organists probably played French repertoire; what was exceptional about Frost was how well she played it. Norman was proud to become her chosen successor at Pitt Street in 1947.
Faunce Allman was appointed University Organist in 1936, the second musician to hold the post. He had also spent two years at Shore School, become organist at St James’, King Street and was appointed an organ professor at the Sydney Conservatorium in 1924. He became Norman’s organ teacher when Norman returned to Sydney after the war. In the course of introducing Allman to the Chancellor for admission to the degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa in 1961 the Vice Chancellor, Sir Stephen Roberts said of Allman that “students, generation after generation, were inspired by him with a love of all that was finest in music”. Indeed, Allman had become a legend, a status to which Norman never aspired. When Norman “stepped aside” (as he put it) in 1997 he declined the proffered honorary Doctor of Music degree.
Allman was one of a small number of well regarded musicians whom Norman came to consider essentially amateur musicians by comparison with Frost and the great Parisian organists and composers, particularly Messiaen, Dupré, Marchal and Langlais. These were at the height of their distinguished careers when Norman was in studying in Paris. Gordon Slater, the organist at Lincoln Cathedral was one who paled by comparison. He had often welcomed Norman to the loft when Norman was stationed at nearby airfields during the war and Norman liked and respected him. In accepting the advice of the exceptionally well-informed Felix Aprahamian Norman was refusing the advice of the professor of organ at the Royal College of Music, his London teacher, Dr Harold Darke, that he should not transfer to André Marchal at St Eustache in Paris. Nevertheless, Norman was one of the first to introduce Darke’s liturgical compositions to the Sydney churches in which he played. Norman clashed with Gerald Knight, the Canterbury Cathedral organist who became director of the Royal School of Church Music, an institution which, in Norman’s view, fostered amateur standards.
“I am so lucky”, Norman said of his position as Organist to the University of Sydney. “I hear some of the best speakers in the world”. He considered Chancellor Sir Herman Black the most wonderful with the sole exception of Lord Hailsham, Lord Chancellor of England. Lady Joyce Black was an organist and old friend for whom Norman had high regard. Before his departure for the front in the Second World War Norman passed his organ music to her for safe keeping even though he did not expect to survive. Norman’s respect for Chancellor Dame Leonie Kramer brought out a rare expression of pride when Norman took out a hand-written letter of appreciation he had received from her and pointed to the words “You played me in and you shall play me out”. Another for whom he had the highest regard was Vice Chancellor Professor John Manning Ward: playing for his memorial service in the Great Hall was the saddest of Norman’s duties. By contrast the high point of Norman’s long years as University Organist was playing for the ceremony at which the honorary degree of Doctor of Music was conferred upon Olivier Messiaen in 1988. Norman was delighted when the great composer told him that the Great Hall von Beckerath organ, for the choice of which in 1965 Norman was responsible, is well suited to the playing of his compositions. Let us therefore honour in our memories a musician who taught and exemplified the highest professional standards as we enjoy his successor’s playing on the wonderful organ he chose to be worthy of this magnificent Great Hall.
(Peter Meyer was a pupil of both George Faunce Allman and Norman Johnston and a University organ scholar who is currently editor of the Sydney Organ Journal.)
Norman’s legacy of organ students: Alan Beavis, John Blacket, Rosemary Blake, David Blunden, Graham Cole, Kristie Crnkovic, Andrew Davidson, Michael Dudman, Stuart Foster, John Foss, Robert Fox, Marilyn Gillam, Ian Griggs, Hazel Hardy, Wilbur Hughes, Graeme Hyde, Peter Jewkes, Phillip Jones, Norbert Kelvin, David Kinsela, Peter Kneeshaw, Pastor de Lasala, Lawrence Lepherd, Jenny Long, John de Luca, Sharon Maenel, David McIntosh, Peter Meyer, Heather Moen-Boyd, Robert Parkinson, Richard Perrignon, Mark Quarmby, David Reeves, David Rumsey, Janet Rutledge, Damien Scott, Coralie Smith, Robert Smith, Edward Theodore, Robert Wagner, David Woodley-Page.