Author Topic: Peter Sculthorpe (1929 - 2014)  (Read 31350 times)

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Offline Mirror Image

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Peter Sculthorpe (1929 - 2014)
« on: July 14, 2010, 06:58:36 PM »


This Australian composer produces earthy, gripping soundscapes with original timbres that incorporate elements of Australian, Japanese, and Southeast Asian musics and express poetic imagery from primal nature and profound human interaction.

Peter Sculthorpe, educated at Launceston Church Grammar School, received his bachelor's degree from the University of Melbourne. His early works (most now withdrawn) were influenced by Varèse and Schoenberg. Performances of the Piano Sonatina (1955), composed of contrasting sonorities, and the vigorously rhythmical Irkanda I (Irkanda in aboriginal speech means "a faraway place"), drew international attention. The String Trio: The Loneliness of Bunjil (1954) exhibits the composer's developing soundscape style employing tone clusters in several registers, brief melodies in compressed ranges, use of quarter-tones, and dynamic chant-like rhythms. At that time, Sculthorpe also scored for Australian radio, television, and film.

In 1958, he left for Wadham College, Oxford, to study with Rubbra and Wellesz. While there, he wrote the Sonata for viola and percussion (1960) with its innovative timbres and new performance techniques. In 1961, he returned to Australia and produced the lyrical and moving Irkanda IV for violin, strings, and percussion. In 1963, he composed The Fifth Continent, a radio score for narrator and orchestra in five parts.

Sculthorpe joined Sydney University in 1963 and was composer-in-residence at Yale (1966 - 1967). After 1965, Sculthorpe's music began to incorporate elements of Japanese and Balinese gamelan musics, explored through Sydney's ethnomusicology department in such pieces as Tabuh Tabuhan (1968, which utilizes the extended wind techniques categorized byBruno Bartolozzi), Sun Music I-IV (1965 - 1969) for orchestra, the improvised Music for Japan, and How the Stars Were Made (1971).

Sculthorpe became visiting professor at the University of Sussex in 1972 - 1973 and serves as a professor in musical composition (personal chair) at the University of Sydney. The musical theater piece Rites of Passage (1972 - 1973), scored for voices, two tubas, three percussionists (playing skin drums on stage), piano (echoed), six cellos, and four double basses, marries the composer's advanced writing with his earlier media and theater experience. The libretto is based on Arnold von Gennep's anthropological study of an individual's social transitions and the music incorporates aboriginal, Ghanaian, and Tibetan chants.

In 1980, Sculthorpe won an Australian Film Industry Award for best original film score for director John Honey's Manganinnie, a powerful drama with lyrical images that re-traces the Black Drive of the 1830s that nearly led to the extinction of the Tasmanian Aborigines. In 1985, he received the APRA Award for most-performed Australian serious work, his Piano Concerto: Pacific. His other works include Child of Australia (1988) for soprano, chorus, narrator, and orchestra; Port Arthur: In Memoriam (1996) for orchestra; Great Sandy Island(1998 - 1999) for orchestra; Rockpool Dreaming (1998 - 1999) for string orchestra and sax;Quamby (2000) for chamber orchestra; and New Norcia (2000) for brass and percussion.


[Article taken from All Music Guide]

Peter Sculthorpe is a composer I was introduced to by fellow Australian GMG member Sid (but another forum about a year ago). After this introduction, I began to seek recordings. One of the first I heard was an ABC recording (with David Porcelijn and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra) of several of Sculthorpe's orchestral works like The Fifth Continent, Little Suite, Port Arthur, Djilile, among others. Many of these works sound as if RVW had lived in Australia and studied the indigenous music of this country instead of the folk songs of his native England. His style is all over-the-map, but one thing remains in all of Sculthorpe's music: an unrelenting lyricism.

Anyway, I would be interested in hearing everybody's thoughts, including my friend Sid, about this very underrated composer.
« Last Edit: August 12, 2014, 04:41:47 PM by Mirror Image »
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Sid

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Re: Peter Sculthorpe (1929 - )
« Reply #1 on: July 14, 2010, 07:57:23 PM »
Along with some other guys of his generation, like the late Richard Meale, Sculthorpe was instrumental in opening up Australia to influences from the Asia-Pacific region. & as the article notes, he was also one of the first composers to become interested in the music of Australia's native Aboriginal people.

His earlier work was more experimental, but in the past few decades, Sculthorpe has become the "establishment" composer in Australia. There's a huge contrast between the earlier and more recent works. The rich soundscapes of the Sun Musics I-IV, which correspond with Penderecki's experimentations of the same time in the '60's (but easier on the ear?) to the use of Balinese gamelan melodies in the rather tragic Piano Concerto (written after the composer was in a near-fatal car accident, and the contemporaneous death of a number of close friends).

Pivotal to his output are his 18 string quartets (as much as Beethoven, as he likes to remind people). These, like much of his music, have those trademark bird sounds. A more recent work, the Requiem, has a more pared down, almost minimalist feel.

He is a good composer to start with when getting into Australian music. In Australia, he is probably the most performed composer in terms of concerts and radio broadcasts. After Sculthorpe, I found it interesting to listen to the music of the next generation - people like Ross Edwards, Brett Dean, Carl Vine, Elena Kats-Chernin. I'm only beginning to get into Australian music myself, even though I live here I haven't been exposed to it that much, apart from these names...



« Last Edit: July 14, 2010, 07:58:54 PM by Sid »

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Peter Sculthorpe (1929 - )
« Reply #2 on: July 15, 2010, 02:47:40 AM »
I have the 'Earth Cry' CD (Naxos) and Requiem. I enjoy the music but need to listen to the Requiem again.
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Re: Peter Sculthorpe (1929 - )
« Reply #3 on: July 15, 2010, 10:13:16 PM »
I was just in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney today (the suburb of Edgecliff), and I saw Sculthorpe at the shopping centre. I didn't go up to him & say anything, I'm not that kind of person, these guys have a right to privacy like anyone else.

Sculthorpe has had a good relationship with many of the ensembles here in Australia, like Synergy Percussion & the Australian Chamber Orchestra. I've seen premieres of a number of his works by the latter.

There have been rumours around that the man is gay, but I'm not really interested in that. Perhaps he's the type of person (& from that generation) that prefers not to "come out." That's fine with me, this doesn't bother me, and I'm sure most other people are the same.

I remember reading his autobiography "Sun Music." His biggest influences early on were Messiaen (the use of bird-song) & Varese (his use of orchestral colour and block-like structures). One composer Sculthorpe develped an antipathy towards was Beethoven, as he was always made to write string quartets in that style when he was in music school. During his youth, Australia was quite an insular and (in many ways) conservative place, but (as I said) Sculthorpe was one of the guys whose composition and teaching began to change all that during the '60's. Two other composers who took Sculthorpe's interest in the region and environment further in their work are Anne Boyd (a lifelong friend) & Ross Edwards.

We're still waiting for a symphony from Sculthorpe (although the set of four Sun Musics act like a defacto one), or an opera. I don't think we should hold our breath...
« Last Edit: July 15, 2010, 10:15:24 PM by Sid »

Offline The new erato

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Re: Peter Sculthorpe (1929 - )
« Reply #4 on: July 15, 2010, 10:55:22 PM »
I've been buying his string quartets on Tall Poppies and like them (I still lack vol 3 but plan to rectify that). Quiet and comtemplative music with some original touches, can well relate to them being bird sounds. No 9 seems particularly interesting, and I've listened to these discs repeatedly. Also the Requiem (on an ABC double) - imagine Faure with a didgeridoo - seems very fine if contemplative is your thing, but I need more than one listening. Searching for Sculthorpe will turn up my posts. Next time you see him, tell him he has a fan in Norway. I hope he will be delighted.

kentel

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Re: Peter Sculthorpe (1929 - )
« Reply #5 on: July 19, 2010, 11:45:23 AM »
Next time you see him, tell him he has a fan in Norway. I hope he will be delighted.

Tell him he has another one in France  :)

I fully agree with your comment about bird songs, it is a very significant feature of his music, as the use of aborigenal music; I think I heard almost all the cds published by the Australian ABC label and I love almost all of them (not all though) and the one with the string quartets is certainly one of the bests. I consider Sculthorpe as one of today's most interesting living composers.

I'll write a more detailed comment when I get a little bit time.

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Offline lescamil

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Re: Peter Sculthorpe (1929 - )
« Reply #6 on: July 19, 2010, 05:35:51 PM »
We're still waiting for [...] an opera. I don't think we should hold our breath...

He actually already has an opera, which was performed in Australia but was never recorded, unfortunately. I hate to mention this, but we might have to wait until after his death for this one.

Chalk up another fan for this great man's music. I hope his music gets more performances outside of his native country. Everyone I ask about him here just gives me blank stares.
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Sid

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Re: Peter Sculthorpe (1929 - )
« Reply #7 on: October 29, 2010, 05:37:26 PM »
I just went to the world premiere of a new arrangement by Peter Sculthorpe of his String Quartet No. 18 called Sonata No. 5 for string orchestra. This was commissioned as part of the "101 compositions for 100 years" celebrating the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. It was performed by the Sydney Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra conducted by Imre Pallo. I have posted about this on the concerts thread, but thought I'd put it here also.

Before the work was played, the composer talked about how this work reflects his concern for climate change and how this is impacting on Australia. This is a fragile continent indeed, 80% of it very arid desert country. Most of us here just cling to the coastal (Eastern) cities, and there is concern in the press often about the sustainability of our lifestyle. Sculthorpe said that he had thought about ending the work in a darker way, but said that he's an optimist and couldn't bear to do that, no matter how (sometimes) grim the outlook in these matters. The movements were titled Prelude - A Land Singing - A Dying Land - A Lost Land - Postlude. There were the usual trademark Sculthorpe sounds - insect sounds, bird song, and the drone of the didgeridoo simulated by the strings. The middle movements sounded similar to his Sun Musics a bit. Initially, when hearing the optimistic ending of the work in the original version on radio (the birds return after the desolation of the middle movements), I thought it was a bit cheesy. But talking to a woman during the interval, she said that we need a bit of optimism in this day and age & I think that's true. I really liked the sound of the five double basses - awsome!

I think it's interesting how Sculthorpe has managed to develop a quite distinctly "Australian" sound, and even though his starting points were guys like Messiaen & Varese (detailed in his autobiography), he has never copied or aped these composers (it's more to do with the way they thought about music)...


snyprrr

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Re: Peter Sculthorpe (1929 - )
« Reply #8 on: October 31, 2010, 10:10:19 PM »
I've only heard SQ No.8 by the Kronos. I was thinking about that Brodsky disc of SQs.

(climate change ::),...sorry! :-*)

Offline Holden

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Re: Peter Sculthorpe (1929 - )
« Reply #9 on: November 01, 2010, 01:20:04 AM »

He is a good composer to start with when getting into Australian music. In Australia, he is probably the most performed composer in terms of concerts and radio broadcasts. After Sculthorpe, I found it interesting to listen to the music of the next generation - people like Ross Edwards, Brett Dean, Carl Vine, Elena Kats-Chernin. I'm only beginning to get into Australian music myself, even though I live here I haven't been exposed to it that much, apart from these names...

As a fellow Aussie can I recommend Graham Koehne.
Cheers

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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Peter Sculthorpe (1929 - )
« Reply #10 on: November 10, 2010, 08:06:02 PM »
Has anyone heard Sculthorpe's Cello Dreaming for cello and orchestra? This is such a beautiful and mesmerizing work. I listened to it twice in the past two days. It's one of those works that you can go back time and time again and get lost in. The colors, the textures, I don't think I've heard a contemporary classical work for cello that has been as moving as this one. Simply gorgeous. All Sculthorpe fans should hear it.
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Re: Peter Sculthorpe (1929 - )
« Reply #11 on: November 10, 2010, 08:16:05 PM »
I personally haven't heard that particular work (Cello Dreaming), but I have heard a number of his works for strings with orchestra (one violin one last year in concert with the Australian Chamber Orchestra - forget the title - & I also have his Lament for cello and orchestra on one of the ABC cd's). The thing that strikes me about these works is their static nature - & Sculthorpe has said that he was hugely influenced by Messiaen. Just listen to (say) the two Eulogy movements in Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time & you'll immediately know what I mean. Those long legato, static structures at the highest registers of the cello and violin. Sculthorpe was also influenced by Messiaen in his use of bird call sounds...

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Peter Sculthorpe (1929 - )
« Reply #12 on: November 10, 2010, 08:31:31 PM »
I personally haven't heard that particular work (Cello Dreaming), but I have heard a number of his works for strings with orchestra (one violin one last year in concert with the Australian Chamber Orchestra - forget the title - & I also have his Lament for cello and orchestra on one of the ABC cd's). The thing that strikes me about these works is their static nature - & Sculthorpe has said that he was hugely influenced by Messiaen. Just listen to (say) the two Eulogy movements in Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time & you'll immediately know what I mean. Those long legato, static structures at the highest registers of the cello and violin. Sculthorpe was also influenced by Messiaen in his use of bird call sounds...

Interestingly enough, Cello Dreaming uses bird calls towards the beginning, the central section, and at the very end if I'm not mistaken. I don't hear the Messiaen influence in this work at all. What I do hear is Sculthorpe's unabashed lyricism to the forefront. I'm particularly in awe of his orchestration in this work, which is something I've been trying to put less emphasis on lately, because orchestration, for me, at one time, was a crucial thing. I looked at it as almost an artform by itself, but now I know that it's important, but not as important as the music itself. I mean look at Liszt. He was a terrible orchestrator, but his Faust Symphony just works because the musical ideas within that work were strong enough on their own that I could easily overlook this.
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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Peter Sculthorpe (1929 - )
« Reply #13 on: November 15, 2010, 10:02:46 PM »
It's a shame that a composer of Sculthorpe's caliber goes unnoticed even on classical forums where one expects the more hardcore listeners to at least branch out and explore music outside of Europe. I think it's really a sad state of affairs when people limit themselves to one continent.
 
Judging from the few responses on this thread, it seems that Sid and I are really the only ones interested in getting beyond Europe.
« Last Edit: November 15, 2010, 10:04:49 PM by Mirror Image »
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Re: Peter Sculthorpe (1929 - )
« Reply #14 on: November 15, 2010, 10:12:02 PM »
Yes, but I suppose he's got more competition now than he had back in the middle of the C20th. There's loads of Aussie composers doing excellent stuff now (not to speak of rock bands & others in the non-classical world). But the Kronos Quartet did do a recording of some (or one?) of Sculthorpe's string quartets which I remember reading about in Norman Lebrecht's book. Apparently, it sold very well internationally at the time (the 1980's?)...

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Peter Sculthorpe (1929 - )
« Reply #15 on: November 15, 2010, 10:29:08 PM »
Yes, but I suppose he's got more competition now than he had back in the middle of the C20th. There's loads of Aussie composers doing excellent stuff now (not to speak of rock bands & others in the non-classical world). But the Kronos Quartet did do a recording of some (or one?) of Sculthorpe's string quartets which I remember reading about in Norman Lebrecht's book. Apparently, it sold very well internationally at the time (the 1980's?)...

I'm not sure if competition is the right word to use. Music is hardly a competition. I think Sculthorpe is a unique musical persona whose sound is as identifiable as Bartok or RVW or Schoenberg. It's just that distinctive to me now. It took months of listening to his music for it to finally click with me. Even though Sculthorpe works in mainly a tonal idiom, I still was having some trouble with what he was trying to say with his music. Thankfully, I understand it much better now and I have become enchanted with almost everything I've heard from him.
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Re: Peter Sculthorpe (1929 - )
« Reply #16 on: November 15, 2010, 10:44:45 PM »
Yes, well he has done some interesting things & has really been a great ambassador for our country musically speaking. He's probably the only composer who gained any real international foothold in the '60's and '70's (apart from say Grainger - who my old copy of the Oxford Companion to Music describes as more of an American composer than an Australian, since he spent so much time in your country). Despite being in his eighties now, Sculthorpe is still composing actively, and turning out music which is well worth investigating in more depth because he has composed in all genres, except opera...

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Peter Sculthorpe (1929 - )
« Reply #17 on: November 15, 2010, 10:49:00 PM »
Yes, well he has done some interesting things & has really been a great ambassador for our country musically speaking. He's probably the only composer who gained any real international foothold in the '60's and '70's (apart from say Grainger - who my old copy of the Oxford Companion to Music describes as more of an American composer than an Australian, since he spent so much time in your country). Despite being in his eighties now, Sculthorpe is still composing actively, and turning out music which is well worth investigating in more depth because he has composed in all genres, except opera...

Yeah, I don't really consider Grainger an Australian composer because like you said he spent some much time abroad. He was very much a nomad.
 
Getting back to Sculthorpe, have you heard his Requiem? I'm not sure you mentioned you have or not, but I would be curious to read any comments you may have concerning this work.
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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Peter Sculthorpe (1929 - )
« Reply #18 on: November 16, 2010, 11:46:45 AM »

 
This came in the mail today and just finished listening to it. What a smoking performance! Man somebody needs to hose this CD off!  8)
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Re: Peter Sculthorpe (1929 - )
« Reply #19 on: November 16, 2010, 04:00:54 PM »
Yes, the late Stuart Challender (who rather tragically died of AIDS in the early '90's) certainly had a way with Australian music. I remember seeing him conduct, and yes, he was very energetic and fiery. Kakadu is my favourite work on that cd, it perfectly conjures up the lushness of the rainforest, and the animal life there (particularly the waterbirds). It's interesting how in works like Mangrove, there is a predominance of low notes, mirroring the flatness of that kind of landscape (there are no sudden contrasts or leaps, everything is kind of close to the ground). Sculthorpe writes about these things in his autobiography Sun Music, which you might like to read.

& yes, I did hear his Requiem on a radio broadcast anchored by the man himself in his 80th year (last year). I remember it as being quite minimalistic and interesting, because I had never heard a choral work by him before. My local library network has it, and I will borrow it at some stage for more deeper listening...
« Last Edit: November 16, 2010, 05:11:47 PM by Sid »