Brass instrumentalists from the Victorian College of the Arts were positioned in four upper galleries of the State Library’s La Trobe Reading Room (‘the Dome’),1 and the composer, George Dreyfus, stood on the podium below. There was a sudden, hushed silence. It was Tuesday, 8 July 2003, and the Dome was about to come alive with a bold, bright fanfare written to mark the occasion of its re-opening after several years of extensive restoration work.

The architecture and acoustic of this ‘enchanted dome,’2 as it has been experienced by generations of library visitors and researchers, was itself a key element of Dreyfus’s composition. The fanfare was written to ‘provide the ultimate in musical pleasure,’ he stated in a note appended to the score, ‘the sounds assaulting the ear from every angle.’

First page of music score 'Fanfare for a new dome'Music score Fanfare for a new Dome, [2003] by composer George Dreyfus; MS 15755

An opening theme is enunciated in turn by each of the four brass bands perched above in their respective galleries. The musicians ‘continue in florid counterpoint,’ Dreyfus wrote, ‘and then join together for the melodious middle section before splitting up again and then finally coming together for a triumphant finish.’3 There is an air of celebration and an air of deepest hope for a valued institution redefining itself in a new century.

Dreyfus was inspired by music composed by Giovanni Gabrieli and his student, Heinrich Schütz, for St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. It struck him in early 2003, when he saw Walter Sickert’s painting, ‘Interior of St Mark’s, Venice,’ at the Tate in London. ‘This is just like the interior of the State Library’s reading room,’ Dreyfus exclaimed.4

Painting of interior of St Mark's, Venice

Interior of St Mark’s, Venice 1895-6 Oil painting by Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942). Purchased by Tate in 1941 

The fanfare was also a gesture of thanks to the Library, and all who have cared for it; the thanks of a refugee from Hitler’s Europe who had experienced the Domed Reading Room as a youngster full of plans to make a difference. ‘During the war the Library was the only place where I could find the scores of the great masters which I wanted in order to teach myself to compose,’ he explained.5

The Library represented a vision set out in words by Goethe, printed (in a translation by John Anster) at the head of its Supplemental Catalogue of 1865. It can seem that Dreyfus’s fanfare of 2003 encapsulated in sound this same call for lasting greatness, generosity, sublimity. ‘Some sparkling things got up in haste,’ Goethe had written,6

'Brilliant and light, will catch the passing taste;
The truly great, the generous, the sublime,
Wins its way in silence.'

George Dreyfus sitting at his desk George Dreyfus, composer. Photograph by Rennie Ellis. This work is in copyright; H2011.2/285

When the sounds of the fanfare reverberate within the space of the Dome, finding a home within this awe-inspiring space measuring 114 feet (34.75 metres) in both diameter and height, there is a sense of wonderment. ‘This is a bit of a landmark, even for me,’ Dreyfus remarked;7 a statement all the more remarkable when we consider the range and volume of his output.8 ‘I’ve got equal amounts of German, Jewish and Australian in me,’ Dreyfus told a German writer. ‘That’s why I’ve always done everything at the same time – serious music, symphonies and operas, but also movie scores.’9

‘The Fanfare for a new Dome’ celebrates the State Library’s domed La Trobe Reading Room, and all the Library stands for. It is a precious gift. There is in fact a recording of the work, conducted by its composer. For maximum effect, however, it needs to be heard within the space for which it was written, and preferably conducted by its composer, George Dreyfus, now in his nineties, a distinguished Australian.

References

  1. Prior to its reopening in 2003, the La Trobe Reading Room was known as the Domed Reading Room
  2. Carew, Ann, [2012], State Library of Victoria: enchanted dome, the library and imagination, State Library Victoria, Melbourne, Vic
  3. Dreyfus, George, [2003], ‘Fanfare for a new dome,’ George Dreyfus, Melbourne
  4. As above
  5. Fraser, J, ‘A sound beginning,’ Herald Sun, 8 July 2003, p.48
  6. The supplemental catalogue of the Melbourne Public Library for 1865, J. Ferres, Govt. Printer, Melbourne, p. 12
  7. Fraser, J, 2003, ‘A sound beginning,’ Herald Sun, 8 July, p.48
  8. For a sense of his output, see George Dreyfus: complete catalogue of works
  9. Nielsen, S, Rugel, EM et al., 2014, ‘A Bassoonist from Dahlem?’ in Memories in my luggage: Literary portraits of German migrants to Australia; with photographs by Eva Maria Rugel

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