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Video Clip Synopsis:
Peter Sculthorpe wants to create a perfect work of art. He created “Irkanda One for Violin” by tracing the landscape around Canberra on a 360 degree graph, then wrote music to follow the contours.

1min 53sec

Peter Sculthorpe Composes consists of excerpts from the program Peter Sculthorpe (26 mins), an episode of Australian Biography Series 7 (7 x 26 mins), produced in 1999.

Peter Sculthorpe: In this interview composer Peter Sculthorpe describes the way in which Australian history and landscape have influenced him and tells of the emotionally significant events in his life which have found expression in his music. He also explains, with warmth and eloquence, the nature of his endless journey to try to create the perfect work of art, a journey that continues to motivate his work today.

Australian Biography Series 7: The Australian Biography series profiles some of the most extraordinary Australians of our time. Many have had a major impact on the nation’s cultural, political and social life. All are remarkable and inspiring people who have reached a stage in their lives where they can look back and reflect. Through revealing in-depth interviews, they share their stories - of beginnings and challenges, landmarks and turning points. In so doing, they provide us with an invaluable archival record and a unique perspective on the roads we, as a country, have travelled.

Australian Biography Series 7 is a Film Australia National Interest Program.

Study Module

Curriculum Focus: The Arts
Year: 9-10
Strand: Music
Theme: Artists at Work

Key Concepts

Art; Creativity; Achievement; ‘Living National Treasures’

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:Music strand: Arts, criticism and aesthetics; Past and present contexts
NSW:Music strand: Listening (Arts criticism and aesthetics) levels 6-8
NT:Music strand: Art responses and analysis Mu5.3, Mu5+.3; Mu5.4, Mu5+.4
Qld:Music strand Mu6.1
SA:Arts analysis and response: Standard 5 — 5.4
Arts in context: Standard 5 — 5.5, 5.6
Tas:Year 9 Music: Understand the historical and cultural context of music
Year 10 Music: Understand the historical and cultural context of music; Respond to historical styles
Vic:Music strand: Responding to the arts — criticisms, aesthetics and contexts, 6.3, 6.4
WA:Music strand: Arts responses; Arts in society

Context / Background Information

Born in Launceston, Tasmania in 1929, Peter Sculthorpe was educated at Launceston Church Grammar School, at the University of Melbourne and at Wadham College, Oxford. He has worked internationally as a composer in academic institutions, and has received many high Australian honours.

Peter Sculthorpe has written works in most musical forms, and his output relates easily to the unique social climate and physical characteristics of Australia. He is Australia's best-known classical composer, and his works are regularly performed and recorded throughout the world.

Sculthorpe's most recent major work, Requiem, involving chorus, orchestra and solo didgeridoo, received its premiere performance in March 2004 during the Adelaide Festival.

In 1998 a popular vote elected him one of Australia's 100 Living National Treasures. In 1999 he was made one of Australia's 45 icons—'a visionary, an opinion maker, one who is making statements about something the nation needs to think about at this time.'

Discussion Pointers

  1. What does the video clip show?
  2. What impressions do you get of Peter Sculthorpe?
  3. Throughout this video clip, Sculthorpe uses his hands to aid in telling his story. What are the various gestures and movements he makes and what do they tell us?
  4. He states that the music is a faithful representation of the landscape. What do you think he means? Consider how the film-maker interprets his meaning.
  5. Why was the idea of creating perfection important to Sculthorpe?
  6. What was important about the ‘grace’ note? How would it affect the sound of the music?

Suggested Classroom Activities

  1. Imagine you are in your favourite holiday location where you can see the horizon when turning 360. Firstly list what you see and then describe what you hear. Present an idea to the class of how you might bring the two together in a composition.
  2. Draw a section of the horizon in your landscape in linear form. Using this line as a guide, write a short piece of music which visually links to the horizon. Perform the piece to the class using the instrument of your choice.
  3. Listen to music by Sculthorpe, and write a paragraph about the experience. Does the music create images in your mind, generate a mood or atmosphere, have an Australian quality, for example.
  4. In an exercise of improvisation, stand in the landscape and respond to the view as you slowly turn. If your instrument is not mobile make use of a view through a window or a panoramic photograph. This can be performed to a group or recorded for class comment.
  5. Find examples of music written by Sculthorpe and John Cage. Compare and contrast the visual differences of each composer, and the impact this might have on the performer.
  6. Look at a landscape painting by Australian artist, Fred Williams, eg Upwey Landscape. He referred to the marks he used for depicting the details (trees, bushes etc) as writing. Scanning across the painting from L to R, top to bottom, interpret the marks as musical notation and ‘perform’ the painting.
  7. Listen to the music of Irkana. During the replay begin interpreting the sounds as a landscape painting.

Modules That Use This Clip

English Year 9-10, The Arts Year 9-10, English Year 11-12