George Dreyfus

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George Dreyfus AM (born 22 July 1928, Elberfeld (today part of Wuppertal), Germany) is an Australian contemporary classical, film and television composer.


External image
George Dreyfus (1995) by Brian Dunlop

The Dreyfus family moved to Berlin in 1935 to enable a better education for their two sons. Alarmed by the events of the Kristallnacht in 1938, the parents applied for and received immigration assistance for their children who were sent to a boarding school in Melbourne, Australia. The parents followed in October 1939.[1] George studied at Melbourne High School then Melba Conservatorium Victoria as a bassoonist. As a young boy in Melbourne he learnt piano and sang in the synagogue choir.

A portrait of George Dreyfus by artist Brian Dunlop was entered in the 1995 Archibald Prize competition.[2]

He was formerly married to the academic and writer Kay Dreyfus.[3] He has two sons, Federal Labor MP and former Australian Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, and Jonathan Dreyfus, who has followed in his father's footsteps as a composer.


From 1948 Dreyfus played bassoon in J. C. Williamson's touring orchestra, accompanying opera and ballet companies before joining the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (then known as the Victorian SO) in 1953. He was bassoonist there in 1953/1954 and from 1958 until 1964,[4] having been dismissed by Clive Douglas.[3] A grant enabled him in 1955 to continue his studies at the Imperial Academy of Music in Vienna. He 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 (de) in Cologne.[5] 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.[6]

He composed the operas Rathenau (premiered 1993 at the Staatstheater Kassel), Die Marx Sisters (premiered 1996 at the Bielefeld Opera)[7] and The Takeover (1970)[8] which had its European premiere in 1997 in Germany.[9] Other operas are Garni Sands (1966, premiered 1972)[10] and Gilt-Edged Kid (1970).

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.

Honours and awards[edit]

He was recipient of the first Creative Arts Fellowship at the Australian National University in 1967.[4]

Dreyfus' first composition, Trio for flute, clarinet and bassoon, Op. 1 (1956) won the APRA Serious Music Award in 1986.[6]

In 1991 he was awarded the Australia Council's Don Banks Fellowship, and 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.[11]



  • Roger Covell: "George Dreyfus", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (Accessed 13 March 2007), (subscription access)

External links[edit]