Tributes are flowing for the acclaimed musicologist and inspiring teacher, who has passed away aged 71.

Musicologist Richard Toop has died aged 71 after a long illness. The acclaimed researcher and educator, known best for his work on the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, taught at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music for more than three decades, inspiring several generations of Australian musicians and composers.

“We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of our beloved Richard Toop from a long illness,” the Sydney Conservatorium posted in a statement on its Facebook page. “Richard was an amazing musicologist, teacher and inspiration for many students who studied with him at the Con. Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.”

Richard Toop delivering a lecture on music and architecture at RMIT University.

Born in Chichester, England in 1945, Toop studied at Hull University in the UK with Denis Arnold and Graham Sadler before working as Stockhausen’s Teaching Assistant at the Cologne Staatliche Musikhochschule in 1973. He was active as a pianist in the late 60s and early 70s, working in contemporary music.

In 1975 he moved to Sydney, taking up a position as assistant lecturer at the Sydney Conservatorium (then the New South Wales Conservatorium). He was appointed senior lecturer in 1981 and later became head of musicology and chair of the musicology unit. He retired from the Sydney Conservatorium in 2010, becoming Honorary Reader in Musicology.

Toop published a book on the life and work of Hungarian composer György Ligeti as part of Phaidon’s 20th Century Composers series as well as a book of lectures on Stockhausen, Six Lectures from the Stockhausen Courses Kürten 2002. He translated Michael Kurtz’s Stockhausen biography and published research in journals such as Perspectives of New Music, The Musical Quarterly, Interface, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. He also co-edited the collected writings of Ferneyhough with James Boros.

He contributed chapters to numerous books as well as a number of entries to the Grove Dictionary of Music, including those on Stockhausen, Brian Ferneyhough and James Dillon, as well as a number of Australian musicians including composers Liza Lim, Georges Lentz, Don Banks and contemporary violinist and composer Jon Rose.

Toop also taught a number of prominent Australian composers. “His teaching and analysis of recent music provided concrete inspiration for several generations of composers including Richard Barrett, Michael Smetanin, Gerard Brophy, Elena Kats-Chernin, Riccardo Formosa, Rosalind Page and Damien Ricketson,” wrote the Sydney Conservatorium’s Dr Rachel Campbell in a tribute on the university’s website. “Richard’s work is frequently referred to in writings on contemporary music and his analysis of Brian Ferneyhough’s Lemma-Icon-Epigram was described by Paul Griffiths as ‘an analysis that belongs with Ligeti’s of Structures 1a as a modern classic of the genre.’”

Toop also wrote the libretto to Kats-Chernin’s 1997 chamber opera Iphis.

As a teacher at the Sydney Conservatorium, countless other students (including myself and, a generation earlier, my mother) have benefited from his inspiring classes and lectures. He has also contributed to the broader musical dialogue in Australia through his programme notes, radio shows and talks.

Tributes have been flooding in for the musicologist on Twitter and Facebook from musicians around the country. “RIP Richard Toop: musicologist, profound thinker & pivotal figure in Australian music,” wrote composer Liza Lim on Twitter. “We’re raise a few glasses of red in gratitude.”

“Vale Richard Toop – a brilliant mind and a great teacher and mentor to so many of us,” wrote pianist Zubin Kanga, while composer Cat Hope wrote, “Sorry to hear of the passing of Richard Toop. His writing on Ligeti was an inspiration to me.” Tributes from students and colleagues are also flooding the Sydney Conservatorium’s Facebook page.

“Richard’s pronounced wit and sense of mischief saw him take the role of polemicist, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, and his attacks on what he saw as aesthetic or intellectual laziness were usually couched memorably,” Campbell wrote. “On a personal level, however, he was more musically open-minded than his reputation suggested. He was also enormously generous with his time and resources to anyone interested in contemporary music.”

“His knowledge of music of all periods and traditions was nothing less than encyclopaedic; students sometimes played a game in which they would attempt to surprise him with musical facts he didn’t know,” Campbell wrote. “Few were successful.”


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