Peter Sculthorpe

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Peter Sculthorpe
Birth name Peter Joshua Sculthorpe
Born (1929-04-29)29 April 1929
Launceston, Tasmania
Died 8 August 2014(2014-08-08) (aged 85)
Genres classical
Occupations Composer, conductor
Years active 1963–2014

Peter Joshua Sculthorpe AO OBE (29 April 1929 – 8 August 2014) was an Australian composer. Much of his music resulted from an interest in the music of Australia's neighbours as well as from the impulse to bring together aspects of native Australian music with that of the heritage of the West. He was known primarily for his orchestral and chamber music, such as Kakadu (1988) and Earth Cry (1986), which evoke the sounds and feeling of the Australian bushland and outback. He also wrote 18 string quartets, using unusual timbral effects, works for piano, and two operas. He stated that he wanted his music to make people feel better and happier for having listened to it. He typically avoided the dense, atonal techniques of many of his contemporary composers. His work was often distinguished by its distinctive use of percussion.

Early life[edit]

Sculthorpe was born and raised in Launceston, Tasmania. His mother, Edna, was passionate about English literature and his father, Joshua, loved fishing and nature.[citation needed] He was educated at the Launceston Church Grammar School.[citation needed]

He began writing music at the age of seven or eight, after having his first piano lesson, continuing in secret when his piano teacher punished him for this activity. By the age of 14, he had decided to make a career of music, despite many (especially his father) encouraging him to enter different fields, because he felt the music he wrote was the only thing that was his own.[1] In his early teens he attempted to learn composition through studying Ernst Krenek's Studies in Counterpoint – "a pretty dreadful book" as he later described it.[2] He studied at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music from 1946 to 1950, then returned to Tasmania. Unable to make any money as a composer, he went into business, running a hunting, shooting and fishing store in Launceston (Sculthorpe's) with his brother Roger. His Piano Sonatina was performed at the ISCM Festival in Baden-Baden in 1955[3] (the piece had been rejected for an ABC competition because it was "too modern"). He won a scholarship to study at Wadham College, Oxford, studying under Egon Wellesz, but left before completing his doctorate because his father was gravely ill. He wrote his first mature composition, Irkanda IV,[4] in his father's memory.[3]

He was distantly related to Fanny Cochrane Smith, a Tasmanian Aboriginal whose wax cylinder recordings of songs are the only audio recordings of any of Tasmania's indigenous languages. Her daughter Gladys married Sculthorpe's great-grandfather's nephew.[5]

Musical career[edit]

In 1963 he became a lecturer at the University of Sydney, and remained there more or less ever after, where he was an emeritus professor. In the mid-1960s he was composer in residence at Yale University.[3] In 1965 he wrote Sun Music I for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's first overseas tour, on a commission from Sir Bernard Heinze, who asked for "something without rhythm, harmony or melody". Neville Cardus, after the premiere of Sun Music I, wrote that Sculthorpe was set to "lay the foundations of an original and characteristic Australian music".[6] In 1968 the Sun Music series was used for the ballet Sun Music, choreographed by Sir Robert Helpmann, which gained wide international attention. In the late 1960s, Sculthorpe worked with Patrick White on an opera about Eliza Fraser, but White chose to terminate the artistic relationship.[3] Sculthorpe subsequently wrote an opera (music theatre), Rites of Passage (1972–73), to his own libretto, using texts in Latin and the Australian indigenous language Arrernte. Another opera Quiros followed in 1982. The orchestral work Kakadu was written in 1988.

In 2003, the SBS Radio and Television Youth Orchestra gave the premiere of Sydney Singing, a composition by Sculthorpe for clarinet solo (Joanne Sharp), harp solo (Tamara Spigelman), percussion solo (Peter Hayward) and string orchestra. This performance was released on SBS DVD in July 2005.

His Requiem was possibly his most serious, substantial work.[citation needed] It was premiered in March 2004 in Adelaide by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and Adelaide Chamber Singers conducted by Richard Mills, with didgeridoo soloist William Barton, to critical acclaim.

Sculthorpe was a represented composer of the Australian Music Centre and was published by Faber Music Ltd. He was only the second composer to be contracted by Faber, after Benjamin Britten.[3]

His autobiography Sun Music: Journeys and Reflections From a Composer's Life was published in 1999.

He died on 8 August 2014 at the age of 85.[7]

Style and themes[edit]

Much of Sculthorpe's early work demonstrates the influence of Asian music, but he said that these influences dwindled through the 1970s as indigenous music became more important. He said that he had been interested in indigenous culture since his teens, mainly because of his father "who told me many stories of past wrongs in Tasmania. I think he was quite extraordinary for that time, as was my mother".[3] However, it was only with the advent of recordings and books on the subject around the 1970s that he started to incorporate indigenous motifs in his work.[3]

Sculthorpe said he was political in his work – and that his work had also always been about "the preservation of the environment and more recently, climate change".[3] His 16th String Quartet was inspired by extracts from letters written by asylum seekers in Australian detention centres.

Personal life[edit]

In the early 1970s Sculthorpe was engaged to the Australian composer and music educator, Anne Boyd,[3] but he never married. In 1982 a painting of Sculthorpe by artist Eric Smith won the Archibald Prize.

Honours[edit]

Works[edit]

Orchestral[edit]

  • The Fifth Continent for speaker and orchestra (1963)
  • Sun Music I (1965)
  • Sun Music II (1969)
  • Sun Music III (1967)
  • Sun Music IV (1967)
  • Love 200 (a collaboration with Tully) (1970)
  • Music for Japan (1970)
  • Small Town for solo oboe, two trumpets, timpani and strings (1976)[8]
  • Port Essington for string trio and string orchestra (1978)
  • Mangrove (1979)
  • Earth Cry (1986)
  • Kakadu (1988)
  • Memento Mori (1993)
  • From Oceania (2003)
  • Beethoven Variations (2006)
  • Songs of Sea and Sky- also arranged for different instruments such as flute and clarinet.
  • Mangrove, for orchestra
  • My Country Childhood
  • Shining Island (2011), for strings (remembering Henryk Górecki)[9]

Concertante[edit]

  • Piano Concerto (1983)
  • Earth Cry, for didgeridoo and orchestra (1986)
  • Nourlangie, for solo guitar, strings and percussion (1989)
  • Sydney Singing, for clarinet, harp, percussion, and strings (2003)
  • Elegy, for solo viola and strings (2006)

Vocal/choral[edit]

  • Requiem
  • Birthday of Thy King

Opera[edit]

Chamber/instrumental[edit]

  • Sonata for Viola and Percussion (1960)
  • Requiem for cello alone (1979; commissioned and premiered by Nathan Waks)
  • From Kakadu for solo guitar (1993)
  • Into the Dreaming for solo guitar (1994)
  • 18 string quartets

Piano[edit]

  • Between Five Bells
  • Rose Bay Quadrilles
  • Piano Sonatina
  • Nocturnal
  • Djilile (included in the works accompanying Tim Winton's Dirt Music)
  • Mountains
  • Song for a Penny
  • Night Pieces [Snow, Moon, Flowers, Night, Stars]
  • Thoughts from Home (intended to form part of the Gallipoli Symphony for Anzac Day 2015)
  • Simori

Film soundtracks[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ford, p. 38
  2. ^ Ford, p. 39
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Sculthorpe, Peter (2009) "Rites of Passage", Limelight, May 2009
  4. ^ "'Irkanda IV' on australianscreen online". Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  5. ^ "From the Heart", Shirley Apthorp interview with Peter Sculthorpe, ABC Radio 24 Hours, May 1999, p.38
  6. ^ "50 Classical Works that Changed History", Limelight, April 2010, p. 32
  7. ^ "Obituary: Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe". ABC News. 8 August 2014. Retrieved 8 August 2014. 
  8. ^ Thirroul, New South Wales#In popular culture
  9. ^ Concert 10 – Henryk's Shining Island, music of Henryk Górecki and Sculthorpe's Shining Island world premier, title and themes based on a comment from Górecki to Sculthorpe, Canberra International Music Festival, 14 May 2011
  10. ^ AFI Award Winners: Feature Categories 1958–2010

Sources

  • Ford, Andrew (1993). Composer to Composer: Conversations about Contemporary Music. Sydney: Hale & Iremonger Pty Ltd. ISBN 0868066311. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Elizabeth Silsbury (5 March 2004). "Sculthorpe Requiem". The Advertiser.

External links[edit]