Two great compositions by Smith and Sculthorpe

eric smith - peter sculthorpe1This 1982 depiction of Peter Sculthorpe was painted by the Archibald Prize winning-artist for portraiture, Eric John Smith. Born in 1919 and raised in Brunswick, Melbourne; at the age of 17, Smith undertook a commercial art course at the Brunswick Technical School and later joined the Victorian Artists Society. Smith has been awarded the prestigious  Archibald Prize three times; along with the Sulman Prize three times; the Wynne Prize twice; and the Blake Prize for Religious Art six times.

Australian composer Peter Joshua Sculthorpe was born on 29 April 1929 and raised in Launceston, Tasmania. He was educated at the Launceston Church Grammar School. After having his first piano lesson at the age of seven or eight, he began writing music and by the age of 14 he had decided to make music his career, despite the ongoing discouragement by his parents.  Regardless of this, he persevered with his studies at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (1946-1950).

  • Whilst pursuing his music career, Peter and his brother Roger ran Sculthorpe’s a hunting, shooting and fishing store in Launceston.
  • Peter and his family are distantly related to Fanny Cochrane Smith, a Tasmanian Aboriginal whose wax cylinder recordings of songs are the only audio recordings of any of Tasmania’s indigenous languages.

In 1963 Peter Sculthorpe became a lecturer at the University of Sydney and later became an emeritus professor. In the mid-1960s he was composer in residence at Yale University.

  • In 1965 on a commission from Sir Bernard Heinze, he wrote Sun Music I for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s first overseas tour. Heinze had asked for “something without rhythm, harmony or melody“.
  • By 1968 the Sun Music series was used for the ballet Sun Music, choreographed by Sir Robert Helpmann, which gained wide international attention.
  • Sculthorpe’s autobiography Sun Music: Journeys and Reflections From a Composer’s Life was published in 1999.

Sculthorpe’s major compositions include orchestral and chamber music, such as Earth Cry (1986) and Kakadu (1988), which evoke the sounds and feelings of the Australian outback and bush-scape. Sculthorpe also wrote 18 string quartets, various piano works and two operas using many and varied percussive sounds.

  • Peter Sculthorpe died in Sydney on 8 August 2014 at the age of 85.

From Earth Cry to Kakadu – his universal Sun Music landscape touches all.

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