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Nigel Butterley (1935-2022) : Represented Artist

...poetry has been as important an influence on Butterley's work as the music and ideas of other composers, most notably Tippett, Messiaen, Cage, and more recently, Gubaidulina.

Random Audio Sample: Three Whitman songs : for soprano and piano by Nigel Butterley, from the CD Nature

Photo of Nigel Butterley

Photo: Bridget Elliot

Born in Sydney on 13 May 1935, Nigel Butterley studied composition with Noël Nickson and Raymond Hanson. After a year in Europe, including study with Priaulx Rainier in London, he returned in 1963 to write Laudes, which established him as one of the foremost Australian composers of his generation. His reputation was consolidated in 1966 when his radiophonic choral work, In the Head the Fire, was awarded the Italia Prize ahead of Berio's Laborintus II.

His output includes works for solo piano, four string quartets and other chamber music, the opera Lawrence Hargrave Flying Alone, and several major orchestral works. The ABC Sydney Prom Concerts in the 1960s gave him the opportunity to compose Interaction, an improvisation for painter (John Peart), piano and orchestra, and an orchestral score for First Day Covers, devised by Barry Humphries for Dame Edna Everage.

From as early as Six Blake Songs (1956) poetry has been as important an influence on his work as the music and ideas of other composers, most notably Tippett, Messiaen, Cage, and, more recently, Gubaidulina.

In the 1970s, enthusiasm for the poetry of Walt Whitman resulted in three works, including Sometimes with One I Love. A decade later settings of Emily Dickinson's verse comprise There came a Wind like a Bugle for vocal ensemble, while poems of Du Fu were used for two small choral works.

The strongest influence since 1990 has been the English poet and scholar Kathleen Raine. The Woven Light (1994) for soprano and orchestra and Paradise Unseen (2001) written for The Song Company are both settings of her poetry. It is also the main source for the text of Spell of Creation, for soloists, choir and orchestra, which was awarded the Paul Lowin Orchestral Prize in 2001.

Butterley's recent works include Orphei mysteria (2008) for mezzo-soprano, soprano and ensemble (premiered by Halcyon in 2008), Beni avshalom (2007) for SATB choir, Seven Preludes for Two Pianos (2011) and Richard's Prelude (2012) for flute and piano.

After being a member of the music staff of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for some years, Butterley became lecturer in contemporary music at Newcastle Conservatorium in 1973, retiring in 1991 with the assistance of a four-year Australian Creative Fellowship. The same year he became a Member of the Order of Australia and in 1996 was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Newcastle. He has taught composition at Sydney Conservatorium, lectured for Sydney University's Centre for Continuing Education, worked with HSC student composers, and been a tutor for the Amateur Chamber Music Society.

Teacher/Influence on

Michael Atherton (2006)

Andrew Batt-Rawden (2004 - 2005)

Lee Bradshaw (1996 - 1997)

Elliott Gyger

Aristea Mellos (2009)

Daniel Portelli (2011)

Chris Williams

Chris Williams

Selected Commissions

  Work Commission Details
Three pieces for organ : organ solo 1. Written for an Easter broadcast on ABC radio in 1961. 2. Commissioned by Richard Meale and the South Australian Government in 1979 for the opening of the large Rieger organ at the Adelaide Festival Theatre.
Richard's prelude : flute with piano (2012) Commissioned by Christine Draeger.
Seven preludes for 2 pianos (duos: 2 pianos) (2011) Commissioned as part of Sydney Conservatorium's ''Centenary Commissioning Project''
Digital sheet music sample Spindles of the stars : for flute/piccolo, clarinet in B flat, violin, cello and piano (2005) Commissioned under the terms of the Alfred H. Maggs Award
The wind stirs gently : for flute and piano (2003) Originally written for flute and violoncello, to mark the composer Dulcie Holland's 80th birthday in 1993.
Digital sheet music sample Paradise unseen : SATBarB choir (2001) Commissioned by The Song Company.

Analysis & Media

Book: The music of Nigel Butterley / Elliott Gyger.

Book: Nigel Butterley's vocal music : a study of stylistic development / by Catherine Flaherty.

Book: Select vocal works for female voice by six Australian composers / by Barbara Janet Wilson.

Book: Australian music and modernism, 1960 - 1975 / Michael Hooper.

- Program note: Nigel Butterley's "The Owl"

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

- Article: Creating a musical mandala

- Article: Birthday bash of note for Butterley

- Article: Dawn of a new world symphony

- PDF: Musica Viva at Six-Butterley-1985
by Musica Viva and the Song Company

- Program note: There Came a Wind like a Bugle

- Review: The Song Company Haunted Lullabies

- Program note: Sleep

- Review: The Song Company Haunted Lullabies 2 October 1993

- Review: The Song Company Haunted Lullabies 2 October 1993

- Program note: There came a Wind like a Bugle

- Review: War and Peace The Song Company 18 June 1994

- Review: War and Peace The Song Company 18 June 1994

- Review: War and Piece The Song Company 18 June 1994

- Review: The Song Company Viewing 30 May 1999

- Program note: Paradisde Unseen

- Review: The Song Company Modern Art Series Tears of Things 17 June 2001

- Program note: The Song Company Icons

- Review: The Song Company Icons 9 March 2005