Keyboard at the Con and Beyond
Keyboard has always been central to music at the University, from its earliest graduates to the present day. When the Conservatorium opened in 1895, half of the students enrolled were pianists. These musicians received a well-rounded education—including theory and history in addition to practical instruction—because, as Ormond Professor G.W.L. Marshall-Hall commented in the first Conservatorium Prospectus, ‘a pianist must now-a-days know something more than how to press down the keys of the pianoforte’.
With appointments of significant European pianists to staff in the early twentieth century—including Czech pianist Edward Goll, who taught many notable Australians including Margaret Sutherland and Dorothy Mattingley—the Con further secured its reputation as one of the leading keyboard schools. Equally, as one of the founding institutions of the Australian Music Examinations Board (AMEB) the music faculty has shaped the learning of pianists across Australia from their earliest lessons.
The kinds of keyboard music encountered at the University go well beyond the traditional Classical and Romantic repertoire. Early music is played on the harpsichords and spinets of the Early Music studio (such as the one built by Meridith Moon), or is represented in the large collection of Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque keyboard music—including the complete works of François Couperin—published by Louise Hanson-Dyer's Parisian publishing house Éditions de l'Oiseau-Lyre in the 1930s. In contrast, students also perform the newest compositions for keyboard, using extended techniques, synethesisers, and the high-tech Disklavier, or even new experimental instruments like Jonathan Mills’s quarter-tone piano, often collaborating with composition students.
Many of the keyboard departments’ most distinguished past and present teachers—including Max Cooke, Mack Jost, and Ronald Farren-Price—were also once Con students themselves. The current keyboard faculty, headed by Professor Ian Holtham, hosts many internationally renowned performers and teachers, with students and graduates going on to play important roles in the Melbourne musical community, as soloists, chamber musicians, teachers, and accompanists.