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Peter Sculthorpe (1929-2014) : Represented Artist

Random Audio Sample: Sonata for strings : string orchestra by Peter Sculthorpe, from the CD Chamber music from Australia


Photo of Peter Sculthorpe

Peter Sculthorpe was born in Launceston, Tasmania, in 1929. He was educated at Launceston Church Grammar School, the University of Melbourne and Wadham College, Oxford.

Sculthorpe's catalogue consists of more than 350 works and, apart from juvenilia, a good part of it is regularly performed and recorded throughout the world. The composer wrote in most musical forms, and almost all his works are influenced by the social climate and physical characteristics of Australia. Furthermore, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island music and the gamelan music of Indonesia were significant influences upon his musical language.

His most recent works included the String Quartet No. 18 (2010), Shining Island (2011) for strings, and Pastorale (1949/2013) for orchestra. Significant, recent premieres also included the first performance, in 2013, of the cantata The Great South Land. The texts and musical material for the cantata were reworked from Sculthorpe's 1982 television opera Quiros.

Sculthorpe had a deep love for his country and for its landscape, which he regarded as sacred. Because of this, one of the most constant themes in his output was the protection of Australia's environment, as well as that of the whole planet. His preoccupation with the frailty of the human condition can be found in works such as the choral Requiem (2004) and String Quartet No.16 (2006). The former grew from his concern about women and children being killed in the war in Iraq, the latter from the plight of people in detention.

He was Emeritus Professor at the University of Sydney, where he began teaching in 1963. He also taught at music institutions and universities both within and outside Australia, and held honorary doctorates from Tasmania, Melbourne, Sussex, Griffith and Sydney. In 1977 he was appointed OBE and was the recipient of a Silver Jubilee Medal. He was appointed AO in 1990.

The recipient of many awards, Sculthorpe regarded the most important as being chosen as one of Australia's 100 Living National Treasures (National Trust of Australia, 1997), Distinguished Artist 2001 (International Society for the Performing Arts), Honorary Foreign Life Member (American Academy of Arts and Letters, 2003) and one of the 100 Most Influential Australians (The Bulletin magazine, 2006). In 2012, Sculthorpe received the Award for Distinguished Services to Australian Music as part of the yearly Art Music Awards by Australian Music Centre and APRA AMCOS.

Sculthorpe's work is discussed in books by Michael Hannan, Peter Sculthorpe: His Music and Ideas 1929-1979 (1982), Deborah Hayes, Peter Sculthorpe: A Bio-Bibliography (1993), and the composer himself in his autobiography Sun Music (1999). The first volume of Graeme Skinner's biography, Peter Sculthorpe: the making of an Australian composer, was published in 2007, and John Peterson's The music of Peter Sculthorpe in 2014.


Teacher/Influence on

Stephen Adams (1982 - 1986)

Barry Conyngham

Ross Edwards

Elliott Gyger

Matthew Hindson

Matthew Orlovich (1989 - 2000)

John Peterson (1987)

Peggy Polias (2005 - current)

Paul Stanhope (1995 - 1999)

Jane Stanley

Nicholas Vines (1995)

Christopher Willcock (1967 - 1973)

David Worrall

Awards & Prizes

Year Award Placing Awarded for
2012 Art Music Awards: Distinguished Services to Australian Music Winner
2012 Art Music Awards: Work of the Year: Orchestral Finalist Shining island
2007 Don Banks Music Award Recipient
2001 Order of Australia Centenary Medal For outstanding service to musical composition in Australia

Selected Commissions

  Work Commission Details
Sonata for strings No. 2 : string orchestra Commissioned by Australian Chamber Orchestra.
Music for Federation : orchestra Commissioned by Melbourne Festival.
A little song of love : clarinet with string quartet Written in honour of the Australia Ensemble's 30th season
Pastorale : orchestra (2013) Commissioned by HUSH Music Foundation.
Digital sheet music sample Riverina dreaming : for solo piano (2011) Written especially for first performance by Michael Kieran Harvey at the opening recital of the 10th Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference
Digital sheet music sample Shining island : for strings (2011) Commissioned especially for the 2011 Canberra International Music Festival

Analysis & Media

DVD: There's no time : Peter Sculthorpe, composer.

Article: The sound of home / Julian Day interviews Peter Sculthorpe.

Kit: Sculthorpe : an icon of Australian music / music resource kit by Graeme Skinner

Book: Peter Sculthorpe : his music and ideas 1929 - 1979 / Michael Hannan.

Book: Peter Sculthorpe : the making of an Australian composer / Graeme Skinner.

Book: Peter Sculthorpe : an Australian composer's influence / Gwyneth Barnes.

Book: Sun music : journeys and reflections from a composer's life / Peter Sculthorpe.

Article: Has Sculthorpe misappropriated Indigenous melodies? / Jonathan Paget.

Book: The music of Peter Sculthorpe / John Peterson.

- Article: Scored in black and white

- Article: Contrasting Composers Committed To Local Music

- Program note: Peter Sculthorpe's "Mangrove"

- Program note: Peter Sculthorpe's "Irkanda IV"

- Program note: Peter Sculthorpe's "Sun Music III"

- Article: Odd man out brings his many talents to town

- Document: Harbour Noise is a Fatal Distraction

- Article: Creating a musical mandala

- Article: Across her bridge of dreams

- Article: Performers sound out line-up for music festival

- Document: Five Songs of Hildegarde von Bingen Song Company and Sydney Philharmonia Motet Choir 1984

- Article: Tasmania in music

- Article: Dawn of a new world symphony

- Article: Cry of the earth

- Document: Profile – Peter Sculthorpe, A Self-Described Optimist

- Program note: Peter Sculthorpe's "New Norcia"

- Review: The Song Company Songs Signs and Stars 2 December 2004

- Program note: Peter Sculthorpe's "Love song"
by Peter Sculthorpe
Source: the score of this work

- Video: Life is too serious (excerpt)