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

This article has 17 comments

  1. What a captivating experience for those who were fortunate to be there. I was not among them, but dearly wish I had been.

    It would be wonderful if the State Library could schedule another joyous performance of the Fanfare, conducted by the composer himself. It would surely touch many hearts and minds, especially in this time of pandemic.

  2. What a brilliant way to celebrate The Dome – special music for a special place by a special composer.
    A repeat performance would be wonderful.especially after all that Melbourne has been through in the past year.

  3. Daniel Tucceri

    A thorough and well written essay about a piece that needs further documentation. It seems a travesty that this work is not more widely known and it would be wonderful if the State Library were to host another performance of this Fanfare while we still have George.

  4. Betty Vergara-Pink

    I can’t think of anything better at this time than to have a repeat performance of the SLV Fanfare and conducted by the composer. I know George. He will be absolutely up for it!

  5. Perhaps SLV could invite musicians of all kinds – and poets too – to experiment with the Dome’s acoustics. And hold regular Dome concerts. They could begin or end with the Dreyfus Fanfare. I’d come to Melbourne just for that magical combination of music and architecture. Thank you for a terrific essay.

  6. Albrecht Dümling

    It is a good idea of a person to dedicate a piece of music to a place that is important for him. The State Library of Victoria certainly was and still is a place of inspiration for George Dreyfus, this man of energy and ideas. His Fanfare, written for the State Library of Victoria, represents ‘Gebrauchsmusik’, a type of music that dominated most parts of the music history and was reactivated again in the 1920s in Germany by Paul Hindemith and Hanns Eisler. George Dreyfus follows this tradition and brought it to Australia.

    Thank you for the blog that explains the context of this piece of music and shows his significance.

  7. What a fascinating article. I missed the Fanfare … and would love to hear it performed in the Dome. Also love the idea of regular Dome concerts.

  8. Many thanks for your fine essay, Walter. A reminder of a wonderful moment and celebration. It would be good, as Evelyn Juers has pointed out- if musical and other events could be held once again under this dome. It is a wonderful Melbourne landmark

  9. You paint a picture of what sounds like a unique experience Walter – I’m sorry I missed it. I believe George’s 93rd birthday is coming up on the 22nd July perhaps the library could put on a repeat performance then? Failing that, there is always Heinrich Schϋtz’s birthday on 18th October? The support you continually give to different people’s creative pursuits is admirable and inspiring – it gives me hope for the future of humanity – well done.

  10. The Domed Reading Room holds the memories of thousands of Victorians, its majesty and sombre tone, its hush and sense of purpose, has formed the springboard for novels, dissertations, academic work, ancestral detective work and simple pleasure.

    I am passionate about the SLV and the Domed Reading Room has formed the backdrop of many important aspects of my life, as a Student Librarian, Staff Member and as a Victorian Member of Parliament. At the core of the Library it is also the very essence of Melbourne.

    I have seen it in the morning with the light streaming through those high up windows and then at night when the green desk lights cast shadows over the people doing their research or simply revelling in the solitude of the space, watching the silent Librarians mysteriously walking along the balconies.

    Nothing though could have prepared me for the opening of the refurbished Domed Reading Room in 2003. The new lightness of all the surroundings took my breath away. The speeches led by Premier Steve Bracks were dignified and befitting of the importance of the occasion.

    Suddenly though, the entire Reading Room came alive, the wonderful uplifting George Dreyfus ‘Fanfare for a New Dome’ was a magical moment. Conducted by George Dreyfus himself from the imposing central podium, talented musicians brought the entire reading room to life.

    I think the collective audience was initially stunned as the music resonated throughout the Domed Reading Room, then came to appreciate what an historical event they were witnessing.

    For me personally, it was such a wonderful surprise and enhanced the lightness of the new look Reading Room and laid the foundations for a new era. It encapsulated and celebrated all that the Domed Reading Room represented I think everyone there on that day, experienced the music weaving their own stories into the very fabric of the ‘New Dome’.

    I feel truly privileged to have experienced such a wonderful musical rendition in this extraordinary setting and I wish to thank George Dreyfus for a truly memorable moment in time.

  11. Thanks Walter for a wonderful essay about George Dreyfus’ Fanfare for a new Dome’. I regret missing what must have been an extraordinary performance and would so love to hear it performed – and conducted by the composer! As many have already said, it would be uplifting to hear it after all we have been through in the last year and a half. So many of us love the Dome Reading Room – I think the house would be packed!

  12. Peter Woodruff

    Beauty has no price and yet it remains with us for life. Even though not musically talented I am most grateful for beautiful moments of being moved by music of many kinds and categories. Cheers, Peter

  13. What a delight to read such a well-crafted and carefully researched tribute to George Dreyfus. The image of the young George in the Domed Reading Room where he studied the scores of great masters in the 1940s and taught himself to compose, set me to thinking of the many lives, careers, and works that have benefited from access to this remarkable space and the rich resources of the State Library.

    Thanks to Walter Struve for taking us into the world of this distinguished Australian; for reminding us of the centrality of our cultural institutions as the nurturers of the curious and creative; and for the vivid account of the ‘Fanfare for a new Dome’ written by George Dreyfus to celebrate the 2003 re-opening of this extensively renovated space, now called the ‘State Library’s La Trobe Reading Room’.

    May I add my voice to those suggesting a repeat performance, with George Dreyfus as conductor. For my part, it would be a joy to revisit the Dome and rekindle fond memories from 1960 of my first experience, but certainly not the last, of the sombre quiet of the reading room.

  14. Peter Lyssiotis

    I wasn’t there to hear the Fanfare….but I might have been…..I can see the music bouncing off the spines of books, sound circling the Dome….giving both the building & the books another chance to breathe the everyday air….was it Frank Zappa who said writing about music is like dancing for architecture.. .? Well, music, writing & the building do come together here, as does Australia & Europe, just as do you and I–this is Art doing its job–(& when it does its job we realise why they have to try and stifle it–& the comradeship it brings with it) Warm regards, Peter

  15. What a lovely piece, Walter! I was one of the lucky ones at the re-opening of the Dome – and it certainly was an extraordinary experience. With so many hard surfaces, the acoustic means that many musical performances simply won’t sound right. The genius of the Fanfare was that George composed it taking account of the Dome as an instrument in its own right.

  16. Anytime I enter a library, I immediately recall the small public library of the city of my birth Khorramshahr in Iran, and how it played a fundamental role in encouraging me to continue my love for learning and education—especially coming from a poor family and without access to sufficient space at home where I could focus on my studies and love for reading books and exploration of gaining knowledge. Tragically, I lost my city during the war between Iran and Iraq ( 1980-1988) —as an exiled Iranian, since I left Iran, entering into a public library in any city I have lived or visited for me has meant to enter into a place that belongs to our shared humanity in which I can feel joy, freedom and hope for a better world for all of us. A place that I can wander freely, feel welcomed and experience the warmth of books and caring people who work there around me. It is a place that is always thinking of reading, learning, gaining knowledge and passion for passing it on to others come to life for me, and one of those libraries has been the State Library of Victoria with its magnificent dome.

  17. As one of the fortunate many who have spent many hours in the stacks and the Dome, I share a huge fondness and reverence for the acoustics, sounds and even smell of this space. Musical performance in and music written especially for the Dome has always resulted in memorable sonic occasions, ones which usually delight performers, composers and audience alike. Such works and events, including the one written about above should be remembered and kept alive through repeat performances in this unique acoustic environment for which they were conceived.

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