Gordon Atholl Anderson

His heritage to Australian Musicology

On June 30, 1981, Australian musicology suffered an unexpected and irretrievable loss in the untimely death of Gordon Atholl Anderson, its senior medieval and renaissance scholar.

Anderson's initial approaches to musicology combined the musicality of an executant with an interdisciplinary enthusiasm, sophistication and imagination in the humanist disciplines of Latin and Philosophy.

His earliest musicological fascination included an interest in the operas of Haydn (at a time when knowledge of this composer's music for the theatre was still a terra incognita for most scholars) and the cantus firmus techniques and contrapuntal innovation of the 15th century Netherlands composers. However, it was the repertory of 12th and 13th century Latin verse, both sacred and secular, that was to inflame his first real research enthusiasm. His earliest translations of some of these texts predate 1960. The earliest investigations of textual concordances were soon to follow. These investigations of the texts and the question of their musical setting introduced Anderson to the problems he saw as involving correct rendition of word and tune, in particular, scansion and rhythm in relation to music.

Thus, when Anderson first approached the University of Adelaide late in 1966 with a view to taking up honors and postgraduate degree candidatures there, he was already in possession of the thoroughly professional critical and philological equipment that was to identify his later paleographic and editorial work. This was coupled with an already formidable analytical apparatus based upon an intensive and critical reading of theoretical tracts. At that time, his private library already represented the most substantial holdings of medieval music in Australia.

From 1967–1972, Anderson was a regular member of the newly established postgraduate musicology seminar at the University of Adelaide, participating with stimulating contributions to fields other than those of his own areas of specialisation. The standards achieved by this seminar in those precarious early years owe a debt of inestimable magnitude to his example.

In 1970, Anderson commenced a three year sojourn as research and then senior research fellow at the Flinders University of South Australia. While at Flinders University, foundations were laid for the multiple volume series Notre Dame and Related Conductus Opera Omnia and the Catalogue Raisonne of the same repertory published in the 6th and 7th volumes of Miscellanea Musicologica: Adelaide Studies in Musicology.

It was at this stage that Anderson was also making his first contributions to the development of national institutionalised musicology in Australia. Many of his assignments at that time were of a pioneering character, imposing considerable demands upon his patience and time. They included his assistance in the organisation of the first national seminar in Music Librarianship and Documentation (Adelaide, 1970), serving as joint editor of its congress report. He was one of the founders of the then Musicological Association of South Australia. Already in those early years, Anderson was a font of inspiration to his own peer group.

In 1973, Anderson took up an appointment as Lecturer in Music, specialising in Medieval and Renaissance studies in the newly established department at the University of New England. Promotion was rapid, and Anderson successively advanced through the positions of Senior Lecturer (1975) and Associate Professor (1977) to a personal chair in 1979. In 1977, Anderson was awarded the higher Doctorate of Music degree from the University of Adelaide for a submission of selected volumes of transcriptions, editions and published monographs.

In the same year, Anderson was elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. In the following September, he became a member of the Advisory Board of Humanities Research centre, Australian National University, Canberra.

During the mid and later '70s, Anderson traveled extensively in Australiam, presenting an extended series of continuous seminars on specific problems of the 13th Century motet and conductus repertories, as well as on more general issues in the investigation of medieval music. Many of these events were arranged by the chapters of the emergent Musicological Society of Australia, of which he had become first National President in 1977. In the years following, Anderson edited several volumes of its journal Musicology.

Anderson's influence thus extended far beyond the two South Australian universities and the University of New England. The increasing number of younger scholars reflecting his influence was nationwide and his advice was consistently sought.

Despite his many extra undertakings, the pace and intensity of Anderson's own reading, research and publication remained unabated. During his early years at Armidale, he had added the teaching of selected ethnomusicological units to his duties.

Anderson undertook his one and only sabbatical in Europe in 1979, a fact which further underscored the remarkable quality and uniqueness of his previous achievement. By this time the major portion of his work on the 14th century repertories had been completed.

Gordon Anderson has bequeathed to Australia the rich heritage of his own scholarship and scholastic example. His was an enlightened and humane professionalism, uncompromising in its standards of excellence and above all in the demands it imposed upon his own physical and spiritual resources. The "humanitas" in his scholarship was the ever present leavening of concepts from an interdisciplinary font with well springs in classics, history, philosophy and poetics, as well as in the music itself. Australian musicology is indeed privileged to have become the beneficiary of such an example as Anderson's while still in is adolescent stages. The quality of Gordon Anderson's achievement and creativity will long remain the criteria by which present and successive generations of Australian musical scholarship will be judged.

Adapted from an unpublished paper by Andrew D McCredie.