One of Australia’s most distinguished composers, he was also a noted lecturer, broadcaster, conductor and pianist, and was instrumental in bringing the ideas of the international music avant garde to Australia.
‘Richard’s work is an inspiration to the current generation of Australian composers’, said Kathy Keele, Chief Executive of the Australia Council. ‘It is partly due to his efforts that we now hear modern Australian composition being performed around the nation and abroad’.
‘Richard was one of the people who really made Australian music what it is today, firstly through his innovative composition work but also through his extensive teaching and service to community through organisations such as the Australasian Performing Rights Association’, said Matthew Hindson, Chair of the Australia Council’s Music Board.
Born in Sydney in 1932, Meale studied piano, clarinet and harp at the NSW Conservatorium of Music. He received a Ford Foundation Grant for his Sonata for Flute and Piano, which he used to study Japanese court music and Javanese and Balinese gamelan at the University of California in Los Angeles. Upon his return to Australia, he joined the Music Department of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, where he made an important contribution to national radio with special programs of Asian and contemporary music. He also gave the first local performances of works of notable avant-garde composers such as Boulez, Messiaen and Schoenberg. In 1969 he joined the University of Adelaide as Reader in Composition, a position he held until 1988.
With his String Quartet (1975) he achieved international recognition, and saw his works represented at ISCM World Music Days, Warsaw Autumn Festival and the Paris Rostrum.
Later works such as Viridian (1979) and String Quartet No.2 (1980) show an abandonment of atonality for a polytonal approach to composition. This new direction culminated in his best known work, Voss (1986), an opera with libretto by David Malouf, based on the novel of the same title by Patrick White. Meale also collaborated with Malouf on his second operatic project, Mer de Glace (1991).
He served on a number of arts boards, including the Commonwealth Assistance to Australian Composers, the Australian UNESCO Committee for the Arts, and the Australia Council’s Music Board. He was a board member of the Australian Performing Rights Association, serving the interests of Australian composer copyrights, from 1986 until his retirement in 2008.
Meale’s awards for his contribution to Australian music were many. He was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1971 and a Member of the Order of Australia in 1985. He received an Australian Artists Creative Fellowship in 1989, and the Australia Council’s Don Banks Music Award, the most valuable individual music prize in Australia, in 1997.
The Australia Council extends its deep sympathy to Richard Meale’s family.