Eulogy - by Brian Coghlan
The following edited extracts are taken from a eulogy given by Brian Coghlan at Malcolm Foxs funeral, and later published in Opera-Opera Magazine (Australia) in January 1998.
What Malcolm Fox achieved was, in short, enough to make one long for more and bitterly angry now that it will never happen. His two childrens operas Sid the Serpent Who Wanted to Sing and The Iron Man are classics of their kind. In Australia we tend to inflated use of the encomium "international reputation." But both works won unequivocal, lasting success on the international circuit from Australia to the United States and England. Malcolm had a rare ability to see his characters and actions through the eye of childhood while applying, with delicate restraint, the sophistication of his own mature technique.
His finest work Pathways of Ancient Dreaming for string orchestra emanated from a deep-set aspect of his being which derived from William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, the wistful, mystic and melancholy aspect of Elgar and of Vaughan Williams brooding over the English landscape in its eternal, unchanging, primal aspect. I think, too, though he was not heard to mention it, that Malcolm had much in common with Frederick Delius in his intense feeling for landscape, the genuine loci and the ancient haunting spirits.
If, indeed, he had a spiritual home it was probably on Egdon Heath with or without Gustav Holst on the Fosse Way, at Maiden Castle and Avebury Ring, and above all on the Ridgeway in Wiltshire. It was the Ridgeway, fused with the death of his mother, that gave the direct impulse for Pathways of Ancient Dreaming. It is a true masterwork which, in anything like a just world, should become a classic.
Nowhere, when he was so minded, were the power and intensity of Malcolm Foxs talent expressed more memorably than in his teaching. He discovered Richard Wagner when he was 21, whereupon this uniquely absorbing and all-demanding master became a lifetime preoccupation.
One sole moment exemplifies this: in Götterdämmerung, Act 1, Gunther and Siegfried have departed on their adolescent escapade to Brünnhildes mountain, Hagen is alone as night comes on. Malcolm called the sequence the greatest depiction of sheer cold calculated evil in all music. In his exposition he played, translated, commentated, underlined and emphasised, all at one and the same time. It was his own Gesamtkunstwerk and totally typical.
I asked him once to take over a lecture series on Büchner/Woyzeck, Berg/Wozzeck. He had probably never lectured on Wozzeck before; never, certainly, on Büchner. However, he had a unique capacity for total absorption and psychomusical insight. The students of German involved were blasé and hard to impress. What they reported, though and quite unsolicited was prodigious. " Prof Malcolm was incredible: he sang, interpreted, played, conducted, debated and exposed the lot; and we experienced it all. It was unique." And also a legendarily hard act to follow.
It was similar when, in what was meant to be a helpful gesture to the State Opera of South Australia, the Richard Wagner Society organised a workshop on Richard Strauss/Hugo von Hoffmannsthals Elektra in advance of Bruce Beresfords production. Malcolm outdid John Henry Newman in "getting a subject up." The result, in detail, sensitivity, implication and panoramic exposé, excelled anything from Del Mar, William Mann or the German experts Stephan Kohler et al. And it all seemed to happen in medias res, so to speak: during the normal rough-and-tumble of the winter semester. Comparable reports were heard of a pre-concert series he carried out on the string quartets of Bela Bartók.
This illustrates a point. Malcolm Foxs musical talent was profound and richly textured; his capacity for detailed and super-sensitive appreciation was scarcely equalled in my experience, and never excelled.
Brian Coghlan, President of the Richard Wagner Society of South Australia and retired Emeritus Professor of German Language and Literature at the University of Adelaide, collaborated closely with Malcolm Fox in many joint enterprises over a period of more than 20 years.