Coruscations (Richard Meale)

Program note

…dazzling and remarkably lyrical music…

Born in 1932, Richard Meale studied piano, clarinet, harp, history and theory at the NSW State Conservatorium of Music, but in composition remained self-taught.

In 1960 he was awarded a Ford Foundation Grant which he used to undertake studies in non-Western music at the University of California, concentrating on Japanese court music and Javanese and Balinese gamelan.

After returning to Australia, Meale joined the Music Department of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, where for seven years he made an important contribution to national radio with special programs of Asian and contemporary music. As a pianist, lecturer and broadcaster, conductor and composer, Meale played a crucial part in the propagation of avant-garde music in Australia.

He has given the first local performances of works by Boulez, Bussotti, Castiglioni and Messiaen, as well as conducting the Australian premiere of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire with Marilyn Richardson.

Meale achieved international recognition with works such as Images (Nagauta) (1966), Nocturnes (1967), Very High Kings (1968), …Clouds Now and Then (1969), Interiors/Exteriors (1970), Coruscations (1971), Evocations (1973) for Paul Sacher / Collegium Musicum of Zurich, and his String Quartet (1975). He was represented at festivals such as ISCM World Music Days and the Paris Rostrum, and frequently broadcast on European radio.

Meale’s operas, Voss and Mer de Glace, both with libretto by David Malouf, premiered in 1986 and 1991, respectively. His first Symphony premiered in 1994. Later works include Melisande (1996), Lumen (1998), Palimpsest (1999), commissioned by the Griffith Ensemble and Three Miro Pieces (2002).

Richard Meale died in 2009, aged 77.

This abridged biography is published with the kind permission of the Australian Music Centre (AMC). Read more at

RICHARD MEALE (1932–2009)

The title of Richard Meale’s piano solo Coruscations, inspired by the Aurora Borealis, immediately evokes images of glittering, multi-hued light. There’s no doubt that the intense colour and luminescence that bursts from the opening notes is just as responsible for Coruscations becoming a modern classic as the work’s technical brilliance.

Born in 1932, Meale is often listed alongside Peter Sculthorpe as ushering in Australian music’s ‘coming of age’ during the 1960s. Meale studied several instruments, including piano, as well as history and theory at the NSW State Conservatorium of Music in Sydney, but he taught himself composition. In 1960, his Sonata for Flute and Piano earned him a scholarship to study non-Western music at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he immersed himself in Gagaku, the court music of ancient Japan, and Indonesian gamelan music.

Returning to Australia, he worked as a performer, lecturer, broadcaster, conductor and composer and was a passionate advocate for the European avant-garde, introducing the Australian public to new music by the likes of Pierre Boulez and Olivier Messiaen as well as conducting the Australian premiere of Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.

Meale incorporated the modernist techniques of these composers into his own music across the 1960s, culminating in Coruscations, which was written on a commission from pianist Roger Woodward, who gave the premiere in London in 1971.

Ross Edwards (whose Monos II premiered in the same concert) wrote in the program notes that Coruscations ‘is constructed from a total of ten interrelated sonorities which are subjected to a rigid system of transpositions and permutation.’ Meale himself has described using Boulez’s technique of ‘chord multiplication’ in order to ‘contain a harmonic logic and a sense of wholeness, whilst using short bursts of sound.’

This mathematical approach has nonetheless resulted in dazzling and remarkably lyrical music, foreshadowing the direction of Meale’s later compositions. As music writer James Koehne once put it, Meale was ‘the most Romantic of Modernist composers.’

© Angus McPherson, 2022

Related Articles

Skip to content