Pieces of Peter: Australians remember ‘a musical giant’

Pieces of Peter: Australians remember ‘a musical giant’


norman lebrecht

August 08, 2014

On the death of a great composer:

Prime Minister Tony Abbott:

A musical giant who changed the country’s music landscape forever.



David Barmby, former artistic director of Melbourne’s Recital Centre:

A Sydney child, I had the privilege to spend so much time with Peter Sculthorpe talking about music in his exquisite, white Georgian cottage in Woollahra.  He always drove a red MG MGB which was parked in the front garden of roses.  So much of what Australian music means across the world has been because of Peter’s creative work.  He was one of the first to propose that Australia should find its own voice from cultures in our geographic proximity:geographic proximity: Balinese gamelan, traditional music from Japan and especially the music of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
A recent interaction was to commission Peter to compose a work for the opening of the Melbourne Recital Centre in 2009, ‘Song of the Yarra’.  We spent many happy hours wondering what the Yarra River running through Melbourne looked and sounded like 250 years ago.
Apart from all of that, in the often vicious and depraved world of ‘the Arts’ in Australia, Peter was always a gentle Statesman.  We all sat together in his studio, in awe, and contemplated beauty.


sculthorpe lebrecht

Ross Edwards, composer:

He stopped (Australian composition) from being a pale reflection of what was going on in Europe. He showed us the possibility of realising, even before politicians, that we were part of Southeast Asia and that is where we should take note of what was going on culturally.

Simone Young, Intendant at Staatsoper Hamburg:

Very sad news that Peter Sculthorpe has died today. I’m conducting Brahms 4 with the students of ANAM tonight and we will all be thinking of him. A monument in the history of Australian music and a great man.


  • Anna McAlister says:

    I met Peter Sculthorpe in 1994 when I was rehearsing his String Quartet No.8 with my student quartet. There were no free practice rooms at uni so I arranged for him to work with us at my grotty rented flat. He arrived punctually. “Hi, I’m Peter,” he said, and my then boyfriend made him some sort of coffee.

    Peter considered No.8 old and was a little frustrated with how he found it, compared to how he would have written it later. He tweaked and experimented with it, fiddled with timbres and effects, helped us sound as convincing as we could. I’ve completely forgotten No.8 but the insights I gained that day into compositional and artistic processes.

    What a likeable, real and generous man. His musical voice was distinctive and groundbreaking, his musical wisdom immense, his contribution absolutely monumental. We kept his coffee cup, unwashed, for a long time.