Entertainment & Arts

Peter Sculthorpe, Australian composer, dies aged 85

Peter Sculthorpe Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Peter Sculthorpe added the ancient sounds of the Australian landscape to his compositions

Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe, who was famed for infusing his classical pieces with indigenous music, has died in Sydney at the age of 85.

The Tasmanian-born musician used Aboriginal sounds in a bid to connect to the quiet of Australia's landscape.

His final major work Requiem (2004) melded orchestral music with ancient instrument the didgeridoo.

Sculthorpe was named as a living Australian icon in 1999 and awarded an OBE for his work in 1977.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott led the tributes to Sculthorpe, calling him a "musical giant".

"Peter Sculthorpe much deepened Australia's musical voice and our country is forever richer because of him," he added.

The musician's other renowned works included Kakadu and The Rites of Passage in a catalogue of some 350 pieces.

The composer, who began writing music at the age of nine, also drew upon musical influences from South-East Asia, Japan and the Torres Strait Islands in the far north of Australia.

From an early age he hailed the importance of Aboriginal sounds as "the oldest music on the planet".

Sculthorpe also said that he was seeking the "sacred in nature" by embracing native Australian music.

He studied at Melbourne University's Conservatorium of Music at the age of 16 and in 1955 gained a scholarship to Oxford University.

But he returned to his native country, saying at the time: "Australia really is the only place I think for an Australian composer. I know that I can't work properly outside the country."

Sculthorpe based himself in Sydney where he also taught, in later years becoming Emeritus Professor at the city's university.

Ross Edwards, composer and one-time pupil of Sculthorpe, told The Australian newspaper that he "stopped [Australian composition] from being a pale reflection of what was going on in Europe."

"He showed us the possibility of realising, even before politicians, that we were part of South-East Asia."

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