Vale Richard Toop: a force in our musical culture

Vale Richard Toop, who passed away on 19 June 2017. The world renowned musicologist played a pivotal role in encouraging the focus on a Sonic Art Collection as part of the RMIT Art Collection.

RMIT Gallery Director Suzanne Davies, who acknowledged Toop’s influence in the recent Ocean Imaginaries catalogue, said that Toop “opened our eyes, ears and hearts to New Music of the 20th century and beyond.”

“I am feeling bereft. The world is now a lesser place.”

Toop, who retired from the Sydney Conservatorium (University of Sydney) in 2010, spent his entire career in contact with some of Europe’s leading modernist composers, and is remembered by generations of students as an inspiring and generous teacher.

His publications include a book on Ligeti, a book of Stockhausen analyses, numerous analytical articles and book chapters, and several contributions to the Grove Dictionary of Music, including the entries on Ferneyhough and Stockhausen.

In 2011, as part of three exhibitions that explored music and spatial qualities in architecture, Davies invited Toop to give a lecture on the Greek-born composer Iannis Xenakis.

RMIT Gallery Director Suzanne Davies introduces Richard Toop at his 2011 Gallery lecture on Xenakis: Music and Architecture.

Davies said Toop’s lecture on music and architecture furthered the dialogue in this area.

Toop spoke about the relationship between music and architecture in the second half of the 20th century, with particular reference to Xenakis, the seminal modernist composer who was also an architect and, during the 1950s, one of Le Corbusier’s right-hand men.

In his lecture, Toop said, “When Xenakis finally asked in 1954 to have an entire project entrusted to him, Le Corbusier immediately gave him the Convent project of La Tourette. This was a slightly ironic choice, given Xenakis’s implacable atheism, and Le Corbusier enjoyed referring jokingly to ‘Xenakis’s Convent’.

“It was at this time that Xenakis began work on what he was to regard as his first ‘real’ composition, Metastaseis. I should point out here one big difference between compositional and architectural projects. Composers work at different speeds, and if you have a day job, as Xenakis did, then you have much less time for composing. Even so, you would normally expect to dispatch a fairly short orchestral work, however novel, within a year, and indeed that was the case with Metastaseis. A building however, can’t really be regarded as finished until it is built, and that takes years. By the time the La Tourette convent was completed, in 1960, Xenakis had broken with Le Corbusier, and his music had moved in very different directions.”

After splitting with Le Corbusier, Xenakis went on to create many ‘Polytopes’, which combine music, architectural space and lighting in an entirely original manner. Toop included many musical and visual examples in his talk.

The well received lecture drew a large audience and the video remains one of the most popular on the RMIT Gallery YouTube channel.

“RMIT Gallery is a forum for exploring all areas of creative discourse; and architects, designers and musicians benefited greatly from this event,” Davies said.





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