Peter Sculthorpe: 101

Prolific Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe has died aged 85. 

Perhaps more than any Australian composer, Sculthorpe has profoundly impacted our nation’s musical identity. When the avante garde was blazing through Europe and America, he helped to establish a national voice, looking inwardly to our own continent. Here’s (a start!) to what you need to know.

Lesson 1: The landscape is everywhere

(Kakadu 1988)

Sculthorpe was one of the first composers to ‘paint’ to the Australian landscape in music, and in doing this he influenced many younger composers (including Ross Edwards, Stephen Leek and Paul Stanhope). About Kakadu he wrote: “Sadly, today there are only a few remaining speakers of kakadu or gagadju. The work, then, is concerned with my feelings about this place, its landscape, its change of seasons, its dry season and its wet, its cycle of life and death… the melodic material in Kakadu, as in much of my recent music, was suggested by the contours and rhythms of Aboriginal chant.”

Lesson 2: He recognised Australia’s Place in Asia

Music For Japan (1970)

Sculthorpe’s early music (especially during the 1960s) bears influence of Asian ideas and sounds, particularly those of Japan and Indonesia. Ann Boyd was also interested in East-Asian concepts (it is rumoured that Sculthorpe and Boyd were engaged to be married, but never went through with it).

Lesson 3: He wrote a ton of string quartets

String Quartet No. 16 (2005)

Wow. He composed 18 string quartets. That’s really a lot! His 16th Quartet was inspired by bits of letters written by asylum seekers in Australian detention centres and includes a didjeridoo.

Lesson 4: He used percussion in interesting ways

Sonata for Viola and Percussion (1960)

Sculthorpe luuuurved percussion, especially in unusual combination with other instruments. Let’s take a look at his Sonata for Viola and Percussion. (That’s an odd mix, isn’t it? But it seems to work). If you sort through your pile of Sydney Morning Herald archive copies you’ll find on 15 August 1964 this comment from Roger Covell: “A rigorously static work. The sonata, the dry gongs and desert glare of its percussion encircling the lonely human agony of the viola, exists in a climate in which emotion is all the fiercer for being half-stifled and haltingly articulate.”

Lesson 5: Sculthorpe avoided dense atonalism

Night Pieces (1971)

Sculthorpe never shied away from dissonance, but he ignored the formal serialism and atonality that dominated the 20th century. Here is a nice example – his Night Pieces. Hypnotic, repeated notes of ambiguous tonality to evoke impressionistic images: Snow, Moon and Flowers.

Vale Sculthorpe.

Written by Gordon Hamilton.


"The inspiration for my work comes from areas spanning the stark regions of Newfoundland to the lush and fertile valleys of the South. The landscapes offer me form; the people I’ve met in these places give them color."

- Peter Sculthorpe

Fallout Equestria - What Did I Listen To?

So, a number of Fallout Equestria Projects are kicking off and I’ve been asked to provide music for a number of them.

That number being 2…

Firstly, a Fallout 3 Total Conversion game! It’s still VERY EARLY in the planning stages, so don’t expect much anytime soon:

The second is a Fallout Equestria Radio Play. Which sounds VERY PROMISING!

But here’s something that got me thinking…I get so many comments from people saying that they loved listening to my music whilst reading Fallout Equestria, but here’s a thing:

What did I listen to whilst reading Fallout Equestria?

Because it certainly wasn’t my stuff! Two words:

Peter Sculthorpe

Sculthorpe is an Australian composer of neoromantic/soundscape music. He is very good and likes to portray the Australian Outback.

How many of you have been to the Australian Outback?


It is pretty much the Fallout Wasteland, but with Kangaroos…

Sculthorpe’s music was what I listened to whilst reading Fallout Equestria.

Works like his Earth Cry and Memento Mori are both primary pieces, but the main piece I listened to the most?


If you ever wanted something that was better than my works to listen to, these are good choices!

But yeah, if anyone wanted to know, this is what I listened to whilst reading Fallout Equestria!


Peter Joshua Sculthorpe AO OBE (born 29 April 1929) is an Australian composer. Much of his music has resulted from an interest in the music of Australia’s neighbours as well as from the impulse to bring together aspects of native Australian music with that of the heritage of the West. He is known primarily for his orchestral and chamber music, such as Kakadu (1988) and Earth Cry (1986), which evoke the sounds and feeling of the Australian bushland and outback. He has also written 17 string quartets, using unusual timbral effects, works for piano, and two operas. He has stated that he wants his music to make people feel better and happier for having listened to it. He has typically avoided the dense, atonal techniques of many of his contemporary composers. His work has often been distinguished by its distinctive use of percussion.

Sculthorpe was born and grew up in Launceston, Tasmania. His mother (Edna) was passionate about English literature and his father (Joshua) loved fishing and nature.

He began writing music at age nine in 1938, after having his first piano lesson. As a young composer, he independently discovered the whole-tone scale, and was disappointed when he learned that others, such as Debussy, had already used it. By the age of 13, he had decided to make a career of music, despite many (especially his father) encouraging him to enter different fields, because he felt the music he wrote was the only thing that was his own. He studied at the Melbourne Conservatorium from 1946 to 1950, then returned to Tasmania. Unable to make any money as a composer, he went into business, running a hunting, shooting and fishing store in Launceston (Sculthorpe’s) with his brother Roger. His Piano Sonatina was performed at the ISCM Festival in Baden-Baden in 1955[1] (the piece had been rejected for an ABC competition because it was “too modern”). He won a scholarship to study at Oxford University, studying under Egon Wellesz, but left before completing his doctorate because his father was gravely ill. He wrote his first mature composition, Irkanda IV[2], in his father’s memory.[1]

In 1963 he became a lecturer at the University of Sydney, and has remained there more or less ever since, where he is now an emeritus professor. In the mid 1960s he was composer-in-residence at Yale University.[1] In 1965 he wrote Sun Music I for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's first overseas tour, on a commission from Sir Bernard Heinze, who asked for “something without rhythm, harmony or melody”. Neville Cardus, after the premiere of Sun Music I, wrote that Sculthorpe was set to “lay the foundations of an original and characteristic Australian music”.[3] In 1968 the Sun Music series was used for the ballet Sun Music, choreographed by Sir Robert Helpmann, which gained wide international attention. In the late 1960s, Sculthorpe worked with Patrick White on an opera about Eliza Fraser, but White chose to terminate the artistic relationship.[1] Sculthorpe subsequently wrote an opera (music theatre), Rites of Passage (1972-73), to his own libretto, using texts in Latin and the Australian indigenous language Arrernte. Another opera Quiros followed in 1982. The orchestral work Kakadu was written in 1988.

In 2003, the SBS Radio and Television Youth Orchestra gave the premiere of Sydney Singing, a composition by Sculthorpe for clarinet solo (Joanne Sharp), harp solo (Tamara Spigelman), percussion solo (Peter Hayward) and string orchestra. This performance was released on SBS DVD in July 2005.

His Requiem is possibly his most serious, substantial work to date.It was premiered in March 2004 in Adelaide by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and Adelaide Chamber Singers conducted by Richard Mills, withdidgeridoo soloist William Barton, to critical acclaim.

Sculthorpe is a represented composer of the Australian Music Centre and is published by Faber Music Ltd. He was only the second composer to be contracted by Faber, after Benjamin Britten.[1]


A couple photos from the 1970s of the Byfleet Cricket Club teams

TOP First Eleven 1974. Back; Charlie Ayers (ump), Barry Lancaster, Colin Cottrell, Rob Hunter, Kevin Macintosh, Marcus Titley, Michael Jayston, Jim Roebuck. Front; Jim Pollard, Brian Vance, Joe Buzaglo (capt), Nick James. 

BOTTOM 1976 v Celeb X1. Back: Lancaster,Dodds,Peter Wight, Jenkins,
Ogden,Hayter,Hunter,Cottrell,Roebuck,Moore,Denham,James,S.Hannan,Penny,Sculthorp,Bryn-Davies. Front: Dennis Waterman, Robert Powell, W.Goold, J.Pollard, S.Butler, Michael Jayston, J.Buzaglo, Tom Baker, J.Cottrell, Bill Pertwee