Geoffrey Parsons AO OBE 1929-1995
Geoffrey Penwill Parsons was born in Sydney on 15 June 1929.
In 1947 he won the ABC’s Concerto Competition. Parson’s first major professional engagement came in 1949 when he was engaged as an accompanist and ‘associate artist’ for an extensive national concert tour by visiting Australian baritone Peter Dawson.
‘One of the great accompanists in the world happened to be an Australian,’ wrote his pupil and fellow musician, Guy Noble. ‘Until his untimely death in 1995 he was the pianist of choice for many of the world’s greatest singers in recital. I still miss his wicked sense of humour and his amazing musicality. He was able to make every singer feel entirely comfortable and supported. As Janet Baker said of their work together, “It was just like coming home.”’
Geoffrey Penwill Parsons was born in Sydney on 15 June 1929. From 1941 to 1948 he studied under Winifred Burston at the NSW State Conservatorium, though he originally intended to be an architect. In 1947 he won the ABC’s Concerto Competition. Parson’s first major professional engagement came in 1949 when he was engaged as an accompanist and ‘associate artist’ for an extensive national concert tour by visiting Australian baritone Peter Dawson. Early the following year Parsons joined Dawson in Britain for a six-concert tour. This led to an engagement with the popular duettists Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth – and permanent residence in Britain.
At first, work was hard to find, so between his few concert bookings, Parsons provided background music in fashionable cocktail lounges. His break came in 1955 when he deputised for the revered Gerald Moore for a concert by the veteran German baritone Gerhard Hüsch. It worked so well that Parsons moved to Munich to be Hüsch’s personal accompanist. Parsons described the experience as ‘the best possible school that I could have had.’ He also studied there with Friedrich Wührer.
In 1961 Parsons was chosen by Walter Legge to accompany Elisabeth Schwarzkopf at the Royal Festival Hall. He later became her principal accompanist. Other world ranking singers with whom he worked included Joan Hammond, Victoria de los Angeles, Nicolai Gedda, Rita Streich, Birgit Nilsson, Hans Hotter, Janet Baker, Thomas Allen and Jessye Norman. He also accompanied many of the great instrumentalists, Nathan Milstein, Paul Tortelier, Ruggiero Ricci and Ida Haendel among them.
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Richard Davis: Geoffrey Parsons – Among Friends, ABC Books 2006
Ian Holtham: ‘Geoffrey Parsons’, in The Oxford Companion to Australian Music, OUP, 1997
Guy Noble: The Music Explorer, ABC Books, 2003