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Widely regarded as Australia’s most influential composer, Peter Sculthorpe has died, aged 85 at Wolpar Jewish Hospital in Woollahra following a prolonged battle with illness.
Sculthorpe’s prolific career as a composer, spanning over six decades, produced some of the most highly regarded contemporary repertoire in Australia. The distinctly Australian sound-world he developed in his music, which captured the dry, distant and rugged character of Australia’s landscape gained him international recognition and influenced a generation of Australian composers.
Emeritus Professor at the University of Sydney, until his retirement in 1999, Sculthorpe’s teaching inspired and nurtured many musicians including composers Ross Edwards, Anne Boyd, Barry Conyngham and Matthew Hindson. “The University, and the classical music world for that matter, is deeply saddened by the passing of Professor Peter Sculthorpe," said Dr Michael Spence, Vice Chancellor, The University of Sydney. "He was an outstanding composer and a delightful man, who has built the music foundations of this University over several decades. Professor Sculthorpe is such a huge loss, but at the same time he leaves such a big music legacy”.
Dr Karl Kramer, Dean of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music said: “Peter is Australia’s best-known composer not only at home but internationally. He was the first Australian composer to develop what many heard as an ‘Australian’ sound and has been described as ‘the voice of Australia’ and ‘Australia’s representative composer.”
Born in Launceston, Tasmania, in 1929, Sculthorpe was educated at the University of Melbourne and Wadham College, Oxford, England. It was not until he returned to Australia in 1961 after studying overseas, that his career began its meteoric rise.
Sculthorpe's catalogue consists of more than 350 works. While his best known works include the orchestral pieces Mangrove (1979) and Kakadu (1988), he wrote in many genres from solos to opera. His 18 string quartets are especially frequently performed. In Australia he became a major public figure, audiences cheering his work as it seemed to say something necessary in the life of a country finding a new voice after the dissolution of the British Empire. The frequent Australian cry to turn to Asia in the 1960s and 70s was paralleled by influences from Indonesia and Japan in Sculthorpe’s works, as he strove to write music expressive of the Pacific region.
The recipient of many awards, Sculthorpe regarded being chosen as one of Australia's 100 Living National Treasures in 1997 as most important.
Limelight’s major retrospective of Sculthorpe’s illustrious career, published last year, can be read here.