Roger Smalley (1943-2015)


Faber Music is sad to report the death of the composer and pianist Roger Smalley, AM. Smalley died in Sydney on 18 August 2015 at the age of 72.

Born near Manchester, England in 1943, Smalley studied piano and composition at the Royal College of Music, London. He also took private composition lessons with Alexander Goehr and furthered his studies with Karlheinz Stockhausen at the Cologne Courses for New Music. His orchestral work Gloria Tibi Trinitas I (1969) was awarded an RPS Prize.

As a pianist, Smalley was widely recognised for his performances of contemporary music. Early in his career, he was a prize-winner in the 1966 Gaudeamus competition for interpreters of contemporary music. In 1969, together with Tim Souster, he formed Intermodulation, an ensemble specialising in works involving improvisation and live electronics, which performed throughout England and Europe until 1976.

Smalley’s academic career was closely tied to his activities as a composer and performer: his move from the UK to Australia was the result of a short composer residency at the University of Western Australia. He went on to have a significant academic career at the University, first as a research fellow and subsequently Associate Professor of Music, Professorial Research Fellow and, finally, Emeritus Professor. In 1989, he became the first Artistic Director and Conductor of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra’s 20th Century Ensemble which he continued to conduct until 2000. Smalley moved from Perth to Sydney in 2007.

In 1991 Smalley was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. In 1994 he was awarded the Australia Council’s prestigious Don Banks Fellowship in recognition of his distinguished contribution to Australian music. He received the Australian Government Centenary Medal in 2001 and was proclaimed a Western Australian Living Treasure in 2004. In 2011, Smalley was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia.

Faber Music publishes a number of Smalley’s works from the mid 1960-80s, including his large-scale Symphony (1979-81), the music theatre work William Derrincourt (1977-9) and his seminal Pulses for 5x4 players (1969). Commissioned by the London Sinfonietta and later recorded by the BBC Symphony Orchestra on NMC, Pulses uses the electronic treatment of sound to thrillingly explore the spatial relationship between raucous ensembles of brass and percussion.

Smalley’s music is also published by the Australian Music Centre.