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Composer-pianist Lawrence Whiffin passed away yesterday morning at the age of 82. Born in Melbourne in 1930, he trained with Roy Shepherd at the Melbourne Conservatorium in 1947, relocating to Paris to undertake further piano studies with Blanche Bascourret at the École Normale de Musique. There, he forged a successful career as both composer and pianist in contemporary music circles, touring France during the 1960s as accompanist for American tenor Richard Martell, and with the Ballet de l’Europe in England.
After studying composition with Paris-based Schoenberg specialist and composer René Leibowitz, Whiffin turned his hand to orchestral arrangements, particularly for Italian singers and film composer Ennio Morricone, whose star was rising in the spaghetti western genre.
At the invitation of Keith Humble, founding professor of the La Trobe University music department, Whiffin returned to Australia in 1976 to take up a post in the teaching department. In 1988 he was appointed Chairperson of the music department at La Trobe, a post he occupied for several years on different occasions until his retirement in 1995.
After his retirement, Whiffin’s new compositions enjoyed more success and recognition locally. In 1998, a chamber setting of William Henderson’s Murchitt garnered the Australia Music Centre award for Best Australian Composition of that year. In 2002, Whiffin’s Concerto for Violin and Instruments took the Albert Maggs award. His piano works have been recorded by Larry Sitsky and Michael Kieran Harvey.
ABC Classic FM’s New Music Up Late producer Stephen Adams describes Whiffin as “a composer with a great sense of humour and of style”, as evidenced by this charming arrangement of a French folksong.