Obituary   by  Tristram Cary


The following obituary by Tristram Cary appeared in The Australian national newspaper on December 3rd 1997.


Composer, teacher and musicologist

Born Windsor, England, October 13, 1946

Died Adelaide, November 17, 1997


The sudden death of Malcolm Fox at only 51 was not only a shock to his family, friends and colleagues, but a serious loss to both Australian and British music. As a composer his output covered most genres, but his greatest popular impact to date had been in the field of opera for children, particularly the hugely successful Sid the Serpent Who Wanted to Sing, with over 3000 performances throughout the English-speaking world.

Malcolm lived every aspect of his complex life with a full-on intensity that sometimes made him an uncomfortable companion, but never a dull one. Even at moments of stress a leading characteristic was his keen sense of the absurd and his love of Monty Pythonesque humour, shared by the very young. This helped to make his children’s works an instant success, and inspired titles like Three Steps in a Lush Lunar Landscape (1974), Last Tango in Valhalla (1992) and Yet Another Yeti (1994).

There was another, deeply mystical side to Malcolm, one that even his closest friends never quite reached. It showed not in words but in his more introspective scores, among them the recent Pathways of Ancient Dreaming for strings, commissioned and premiered by the Arcata Kammerorchester of Stuttgart at the Perth International Festival of 1990. This music, profoundly English in character, arose from his devastation at the death of his mother, and remains perhaps his most beautiful work.

In 1967 when he joined my class at the Royal College of Music electronic music studio, Malcolm was an irrepressible and argumentative student of 21, fashionably iconoclastic to the extent that he managed to cross swords with the College’s administrative hierarchy. Then and throughout his life he fearlessly confronted the pompous, the phoney and the devious in high places, courage and honesty for which he would be punished. He was working towards an M.Mus (RCM), a combination course involving London University as well as the College. In musicology Wagner was already his chosen speciality, and he later gained an international reputation as a Wagner scholar – the absence of his input to the forthcoming Ring season in Adelaide will leave a significant gap.

The late sixties was an innovative time, and Malcolm loved innovation. His first teaching job, working alongside his Australian colleague Grahame Dudley, was at the Cockpit Theatre, just opened as the first purpose-built arts workshop for schools. Like the Space in the Adelaide Festival Centre, the Cockpit is a multi-purpose box which literally becomes anything you like – a theatre, an arena, a cabaret café. The Fox/Dudley team put on concerts to demonstrate what the avant garde were up to, stimulating every sort of adventurous creativity in schools. Through the enterprise of David Galliver, then Elder Professor, this led in 1974 to both being appointed to pioneer a Music Education course at the Elder Conservatorium, and Malcolm moved to Australia.

The 23 subsequent years of Malcolm’s life were often controversial, but he loved challenges, and in 1977 while still quite junior he became Associate Dean, then Dean of the Faculty of Music from 1979 to 1981 and in 1983. This was a period of sweeping change in the way music was taught and administered, and Malcolm had to implement a number of unpopular decisions, always unflinchingly even if it cost him friends. During his Deanship the B.Mus (Performance) degree was introduced, the Friends of the Elder Conservatorium was founded and raised more than $20,000 to assist music at the University, and a new cooperative liaison was established with the TAFE school in Flinders Street – and this was not by any means all he achieved.

Malcolm was a fine composer whose music has been seriously underappreciated. A number of his works should certainly find a permanent place in the repertoire, and one can only hope that this will happen posthumously. A special tragedy is that his music was reaching a new level of maturity and mastery when it suddenly ceased. The unlived part of Malcolm’s life could have been so much more fulfilled, but this extraordinarily gifted, larger-than-life man gave of himself with extravagant generosity while he was here, and for that we should be grateful. He is survived by his former wife, Pauline, and their son, Jonathan.


Tristram Cary ( is a composer living in Adelaide. His music is featured on Silva Screen’s The Ladykillers – Music from Those Glorious Ealing Films (Film CD 177) which won the Gramophone's award for best film music recording of 1998. A double album of 30 years’ of his electroacoustic works is in preparation, due for release by Tall Poppies Records (Australia) and Electronic Music Foundation (USA).