Sad loss: Australia’s most successful composer has died

Peter Sculthorpe, a composer who infused the western classical tradition with the indigenous sounds and ambience of his native Tasmania, has died at the age of 85.


peter sculthorpe

Sculthorpe’s international breakthrough came with the first Kronos Quartet album, which placed his eighth string quartet beside works by Philip Glass, Conlon Nancarrow, Aulis Sallinen and Jimi Hendrix. He wrote 18 quartets, all told, and a Sun Music series that is regularly performed.

His distinctive sound was nurtured at Oxford University, where he studied with the Viennese exile, Egon Wellesz. He returned to Australia in 1961, defining the musical language of his country as Patrick white did its literature and Sydney Nolan its art.

He died this morning at Wolper Jewish Hospital in Woollahra.

Interview here.

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  • I had the pleasure of conducting Kakadu with the Buffalo Philharmonic and the West Australian Symphony and once had a great chat with him on the phone about a possible Guitar and orchestra project which sadly didn’t come to fruition. He was Australia’s Copland, not stylistically except that he loved writing about Australia and incorporating it’s beauty and ruggedness in compositions, I am so saddened to hear this.

    • Dear Mr Spigelman, I have read your comment with interest–comparing him with Copland. I wrote to AC in 1969 after reading his WHAT TO LISTEN FOR IN MUSIC-
      he replied by letter within 2 weeks–I can’t forgive myself for losing that letter.
      I am the co-founder of Australian & Asian Orchestra whose aim is to perform Chinese and Asian music alongside Western classical—our 2 concerts went very well.
      I live in Melb and am a melodies-writer.
      Best wishes

  • Mention of Copland reminds me that he had a high regard for Sculthorpe’s early “Small Town”, with that quite lovely, “down home” oboe tune that does have a certain Copland-ish resonance. I was listening to it just now, and it seems at this point an apt memorial for a truly original voice who has now left us. RIP Peter Sculthorpe.

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