Early life and orchestral career
Dreyfus was born to a Jewish family in Elberfeld, Wuppertal, Germany. He was the younger of two sons born to Alfred Dreyfus and Hilde Ransenberg. Growing up, his family had what he described as "pots of money, cars, Kindermädchen [nannies] and holidays in Switzerland and Czechoslovakia". However, due to the Nazi persecution of Jews, the family was forced to move to Berlin in 1935 and then left Germany entirely. He and his brother arrived in Melbourne in July 1939 and began attending boarding school; his parents followed in December.
At Melbourne High School, Dreyfus conducted the school choir and played clarinet in the school orchestra. He enrolled in the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music as a bassoonist, and then in 1948 toured for a year playing Italian opera with the J. C. Williamson touring orchestra. Dreyfus subsequently played for several years in the house orchestra of His Majesty's Theatre, Perth. He joined the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 1953, where he played until 1964. He was reputedly fired from the orchestra by Clive Douglas. A grant enabled him in 1955 to continue his studies at the Imperial Academy of Music in Vienna, where he was taught by Karl Öhlberger.
Dreyfus began composing in 1956 but did not concentrate on composition until the 1960s after he left the Orchestra. A UNESCO travel grant allowed him in 1966 to travel to Germany for studies with Karlheinz Stockhausen at the Rheinische Musikschule in Cologne. In 1972 he won the Albert H. Maggs Composition Award.
He has composed numerous film and television scores, including for The Adventures of Sebastian the Fox (1963), A Steam Train Passes (1974), Rush (1974), Dimboola (1979) and The Fringe Dwellers (1986). It was the score for Rush which brought him wider recognition and saw him immortalised in the Trivial Pursuit board game.
He composed the operas Rathenau (premiered 1993 at the Staatstheater Kassel), Die Marx Sisters (premiered 1996 at the Bielefeld Opera) and The Takeover (1970) which had its European premiere in 1997 in Germany. Other operas are Garni Sands (1966, premiered 1972) and Gilt-Edged Kid (1970).
He also composed the musical The Sentimental Bloke, an adaptation of The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke with book and lyrics by Graeme Blundell. The Sentimental Bloke premiered at the Melbourne Theatre Company in December 1985. He also contributed music to Manning Clark's History of Australia – The Musical which premiered in 1988.
In 1984, he published his autobiography The Last Frivolous Book, and in 1998 a book of essays. His memoir Don't Ever Let Them Get You! (Black Pepper, 2009) includes essays on his music and a complete catalogue of works. In 2011 he published Brush Off! about his struggles with Opera Australia to get his opera Gilt-Edged Kid performed. In 2019, at the age of 90, Dreyfus disrupted the opening night of Rigoletto at the State Theatre in Melbourne when he attempted to use a megaphone from the front row to protest against the company for not having performed his work. George is currently touring Melbourne with his quartet and performing his best works to the community with funding from The Pratt Foundation. He most recently performed at The Festival of Jewish Arts and Music, where at the age of 91 he is still performing the bassoon part in the arrangements he made for quartet.
Honours and awards
Don Banks Music Award
The Don Banks Music Award was established in 1984 to publicly honour a senior artist of high distinction who has made an outstanding and sustained contribution to music in Australia. It was founded by the Australia Council in honour of Don Banks, Australian composer, performer and the first chair of its music board.
|Year||Nominee / work||Award||Result|
|1992||George Dreyfus||Don Banks Music Award||Won|
In 1992 was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to music. In 2002 he was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz 1. Klasse. At the APRA Music Awards of 2013 he was recognised for his Distinguished Services to Australian Music.
|George Dreyfus (1995) by Brian Dunlop|
Dreyfus was formerly married to the academic and writer Kay Dreyfus. He has two sons and a daughter, Federal Labor MP and former Australian Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, Jonathan Dreyfus, who has followed in his father's footsteps as a composer and Michelle Ball, a social worker.
- George Dreyfus : Represented Artist – Australian Music Centre. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
- MS 2254 Papers of George Dreyfus (1928– ) at the National Library of Australia
- Black Pepper Publishing. Retrieved 3 June 2016
- "Yours forever, George" by George Dreyfus, The Australian; excerpt from Brush Off! (2 April 2011)
- "George's greatest score", Limelight, July 2008, p. 8
- Catalogue of National Library of Australia
- The Takeover, school opera in one act; George Dreyfus; libretto by Frank Kellaway, National Library of Australia
- "George Dreyfus : Represented Artist", Australian Music Centre
- Garni Sands at the Australian Music Centre
- Radic, Leonard (19 December 1985). "An agreeably thick layer of sentimentality". The Age. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
- "'I've never seen something like this': Opera disrupted by elderly protester" by Broede Carmody, The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 March 2019
- "George Dreyfus Quartet"
- "Don Banks Music Award: Prize". Australian Music Centre. Archived from the original on 19 August 2015. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
- "Distinguished Services to Australian Music". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) | Australian Music Centre (AMC). 2013. Retrieved 14 April 2015.
- George Dreyfus (composer) by Brian Dunlop, 1995. 1 painting : oil on canvas], National Library of Australia
- Roger Covell: "George Dreyfus", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (Accessed 13 March 2007), (subscription access)