Peter Sculthorpe


Born: April 29, 1929 Died: August 8, 2014
This Australian composer produces earthy, gripping soundscapes with original timbres that incorporate elements of Australian, Japanese, and Southeast Asian musics and express poetic imagery from primal nature and profound human interaction.

Peter Sculthorpe, educated at Launceston Church Grammar School, received his bachelor's degree from the University of Melbourne. His early works (most now withdrawn) were influenced by Varèse and Schoenberg. Performances of the Piano Sonatina (1955), composed of contrasting sonorities, and the vigorously rhythmical Irkanda I (Irkanda in aboriginal speech means "a faraway place"), drew international attention. The String Trio: The Loneliness of Bunjil (1954) exhibits the composer's developing soundscape style employing tone clusters in several registers, brief melodies in compressed ranges, use of quarter-tones, and dynamic chant-like rhythms. At that time, Sculthorpe also scored for Australian radio, television, and film.

In 1958, he left for Wadham College, Oxford, to study with Rubbra and Wellesz. While there, he wrote the Sonata for viola and percussion (1960) with its innovative timbres and new performance techniques. In 1961, he returned to Australia and produced the lyrical and moving Irkanda IV for violin, strings, and percussion. In 1963, he composed The Fifth Continent, a radio score for narrator and orchestra in five parts.

Sculthorpe joined Sydney University in 1963 and was composer-in-residence at Yale (1966 - 1967). After 1965, Sculthorpe's music began to incorporate elements of Japanese and Balinese gamelan musics, explored through Sydney's ethnomusicology department in such pieces as Tabuh Tabuhan (1968, which utilizes the extended wind techniques categorized by Bruno Bartolozzi), Sun Music I-IV (1965 - 1969) for orchestra, the improvised Music for Japan, and How the Stars Were Made (1971).

Sculthorpe became visiting professor at the University of Sussex in 1972 - 1973 and serves as a professor in musical composition (personal chair) at the University of Sydney. The musical theater piece Rites of Passage (1972 - 1973), scored for voices, two tubas, three percussionists (playing skin drums on stage), piano (echoed), six cellos, and four double basses, marries the composer's advanced writing with his earlier media and theater experience. The libretto is based on Arnold von Gennep's anthropological study of an individual's social transitions and the music incorporates aboriginal, Ghanaian, and Tibetan chants.

In 1980, Sculthorpe won an Australian Film Industry Award for best original film score for director John Honey's Manganinnie, a powerful drama with lyrical images that re-traces the Black Drive of the 1830s that nearly led to the extinction of the Tasmanian Aborigines. In 1985, he received the APRA Award for most-performed Australian serious work, his Piano Concerto: Pacific. His other works include Child of Australia (1988) for soprano, chorus, narrator, and orchestra; Port Arthur: In Memoriam (1996) for orchestra; Great Sandy Island (1998 - 1999) for orchestra; Rockpool Dreaming (1998 - 1999) for string orchestra and sax; Quamby (2000) for chamber orchestra; and New Norcia (2000) for brass and percussion.
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There are 22 Peter Sculthorpe recordings available.

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