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Some makings of an Australian composer (1964-1965): historical context and the national library of Australia's Peter Sculthorpe Papers.

English Abstract

Under the shelf-mark, National Library of Australia, MS 9676, the "Papers of Peter Sculthorpe" already comprise some 25 linear metres of personal and professional correspondence, autograph scores, printed ephemera (concert programs and press clippings), photographs, and other memorabilia, collected by the composer over most of a lifetime. This article summarises the contents, and addresses its importance of the collection, especially to the study of Sculthorpe's "first period" (1929-74), and to the monograph literature on the composer. It also gives a referenced account of the historical background to Sculthorpe's emergence as a figure of national importance, and as one of a new wave of modernist Australian composers in the years 1963-64. Finally, complementing his recent biography of the composer, Peter Sculthorpe: The Making of an Australian Composer, the author presents new data found among a newly identified correspondence drafts dating from these same years.

French Abstract

A la Bibliotheque nationale d'Australie, la cote MS 9676 designant les papiers de Peter Sculthorpe occupe en ce moment quelques 25 metres lineaires de correspondance personnelle et professionnelle, de partitions autographes, de documents imprimes ephemeres (programmes de concerts et coupures de presse), de photographies et autres souvenirs accumules par le compositeur pendant la majeure partie de sa vie. Cet article recapitule le contenu de cette collection et aborde son importance pour l'etude de la << premiere periode >> de sa vie (1929-74) ainsi que pour les monographies qui existent a son sujet. Il apporte egalement un compte-rendu reference sur le contexte historique de l'emergence de Sculthorpe comme figure d'importance nationale et comme l'un des compositeurs modernistes de la nouvelle vague des annees 1963-64. Enfin, en complement de sa biographie sur le compositeur, Peter Sculthorpe : The Making of an Australian Composer, l'auteur presente de nouvelles informations qui ont ete recemment identifiees comme etant des brouillons de correspondances de ces memes annees.

German Abstract

Unter der Signatur MS 9676 befindet sich in der National Library of Australia ein erster Teil des Nachlasses von Peter Sculthorpe. Dieser umfasst rund 25 Regalmeter gefullt mit Briefen, Musikautographen, Konzertprogrammen, Zeitungsausschnitten, Fotos und anderen Dingen, die der Komponist wahrend seines bisherigen Lebens angesammelt hat. Der Artikel beschreibt die Sammlung und beschaftigt sich mit ihrer Bedeutung. Dies mit besonderem Schwerpunkt auf Sculthorpes "erster Schaffensperiode" (1929-1974) und der monographischen Literatur uber den Komponisten. Ausserdem gibt er eine annotierte Beschreibung der Entwicklung Sculthorpes zu einer Personlichkeit von nationalem Interesse und seiner Rolle als einer der modernen, australischen Komponisten der Jahre 1963-64. Abschliessend erganzt der Autor seine kurzlich erschienene Biographie, Peter Sculthorpe: The Making of an Australian Composer, mit Informationen aus neu entdeckten Briefentwurfen dieser Jahre.

Second only to the Percy Grainger collection at The University of Melbourne, the largest and most important Australian composer archive currently in public hands is now in Canberra, the National Library of Australia's (NLA) Sculthorpe collection. Under the library shelf-mark, MS 9676, the "Papers of Peter Sculthorpe" comprise some 25 linear metres of personal and professional correspondence, autograph scores, printed ephemera (concert programs and press clippings), photographs, and other memorabilia, collected by the composer over most of a lifetime. (2) Grainger, of course, achieved his prior preeminence (and amassed his archive) during the first half of the twentieth century almost by the necessary virtue of being an absentee Australian; lacking opportunity at home, he left early for Europe and, at the outbreak of World War I, for the United States, and thereafter had little direct impact on, or consistent involvement in, Australia's fledgling national compositional culture. A fascinating personality he may have been, but a "leader" of Australian composers he most certainly was not. (3) Coming of age after World War II, Sculthorpe, on the other hand, was enabled by a coincidence of ability, circumstance, and support to become the first Australian composer to establish and sustain a significant international musical reputation while remaining at home.

Sculthorpe's personal achievement is manifold. At a time when national identity was an issue of growing importance, he espoused the ideal of producing music in a recognisably Australian idiom. How far he achieved (or could ever have achieved) this is a moot point, though, as a representative of the current middle generation of composers Gordon Kerry put it recently, he was at the very least "the right person at the right time to bring a sense of Australianness to our music" (author's italics). (4) He also became an effective figurehead for the local modernist movement in composition in the 1960s, not by being the most consistently daring of its representative composers (laurels shared initially by Richard Meale, Nigel Butterley, and Larry Sitsky), but, as the reviewer and music historian Roger Covell observed, by producing works of a "clarity and polish that identified him as a persuasive intermediary between the new wave ... and a generally conservative Australian public". (5) Whereas some of his originally more radical colleagues responded to the prevailing drift away from avant-garde modernism in the 1980s with stylistic retrenchment, Sculthorpe's middle-ground personal idiom remained essentially unaltered, enabling him to mitigate, again effectively, the divide between maintaining his music's modernist roots and realising what others subsequently perceived to be its post-modernist possibilities. Furthermore, he cemented his practical leadership of Australian composition through his role as a teacher. (6) Up until his retirement as professor of composition at the University of Sydney in 1999, no other Australian mentored such a significant roll-call of younger composers, including--to mention here only the most notable of the immediate next generation who were also stylistically influenced by him--Anne Boyd, Ross Edwards, and Barry Conyngham. Finally, he achieved the distinction of being recognised, by the reviewer Meredith Oakes as early as 1968, as the first Australian composer "whose music could not be mistaken for anyone else's." (7)

Though Sculthorpe, at the age of 78 (2007), is still very much alive and well and working, his output can already divided naturally into two neat chronological (if not necessarily stylistic) periods. The first came to an end around his forty-fifth birthday in 1974, by which time he had finally brought to conclusion most of the projects and public commissions whose long gestation had occupied him since the early 1960s. The period is characterised by such early, but still mostly locally recognised achievements, as the four works of the Irkanda series (1955-61), the four orchestral Sun Musics (1965-69) that also formed the basis of the ballet Sun Music (1968), the String Quartets Nos 6-8 (1965-69), and the opera Rites of Passage (1973). Better known internationally is his music of the second period, including the orchestral Mangrove (1979), the Piano Concerto (1983), Earth Cry (1986), Kakadu (1988), the guitar concerto Nourlangie (1989), Cello Dreaming (1998), Great Sandy Island (1998), the choral-and-orchestral Requiem (2004), and the later string quartets, Nos 10 (1983) to 17 (2007). In recent years he has been featured composer at, for example, the 2003 Colorado Music Festival in the USA, and in the UK the 2004 Lichfield Festival and the boutique 2007 Presteigne Festival (music's Hay-on-Wye). Though his music is better known in English-speaking countries, in 2006 he was featured in an article and accompanying CD in the Spanish arts review, Sibila. (8) It is, accordingly, for the information of a wider international readership that the remainder of this article reports on recent findings pertaining to Sculthorpe's "first" period, and to his role as one of a "new wave" of Australian composers whose emergence can be dated quite precisely to the years 1963-64.

Twentieth-century Australian composition: an historical context

The barely post-colonial Australian society into which Sculthorpe was born in 1929 was yet to produce, let alone sustain, a significant modernist movement in any of the arts. Grainger was not the only composer who settled permanently "abroad". In the 1920s and 1930s, he was followed by Arthur Benjamin, (9) John Gough, Hubert Clifford, and Peggy Glanville-Hicks, (10) while those young emerging modernists who remained to occupy the home ground from the 1930s to the 1950s--most notably and originally Margaret Sutherland, (11) but also Roy Agnew, (12) Miriam Hyde, (13) Clive Douglas, and Robert Hughes--often did so in a vacuum of public apathy. After seeing out most of World War II from the safety of Sydney, the English reviewer Neville Cardus returned home to Britain writing off the entire compositional enterprise by declaring definitively: "There are no Australian compositions". (14) At best a contentious guest, (15) in 1941 Cardus judged a pioneering concert of recent Australian orchestral music (including works by Douglas, Hughes, Hyde, and Hooper Brewster-Jones) to be a "deplorable mistake", containing only music "embalmed thousands of miles away from Australia in the heyday of Edward VII". (16) In 1948, Cardus was disinclined to make an exception even for John Antill's ballet suite Corroboree, (17) despite the fact that it had been championed by the English composer and newly appointed conductor of the Sydney Symphony, Eugene Goossens, both in Australia, and "abroad" at the 1947 BBC London Proms and with the Cincinnati Orchestra. (18)

By 1950, culturally literate Australians were used to being told that there were "important" modern Australian paintings (by William Dobell, Sidney Nolan, and Russell Drysdale), and, as the 1950s progressed, even some "important" modern Australian literature (by Patrick White, and Ray Lawler). Since, to some extent, "important" remained code for "worthy of international exposure", it was regarded as significant that since 1950, two young expatriate Australian composers, Don Banks and Malcolm Williamson, had carved out modest places for themselves in London's music scene. Both at home and "abroad", however, "Australian music" continued to be exemplified by the likes of Londoner John Ireland's 1946 soundtrack score for the Ealing studios "Outback" classic, The Overlanders. Such income as a resident Australian composers might make was largely from performing and broadcasting fees (in 1948, Sculthorpe was paid a standard 2 guineas for performing some of his own piano music in an Australian Broadcasting Commission radio broadcast), (19) and performance rights for theatrical and dance works. The only up-front commissions were the quite lucrative fees paid for documentary film soundtracks by the government Commonwealth Film Unit. Occasional windfalls might come from wins in public competitions. Hyde, Sutherland, Hughes and Douglas all repeatedly "successful" in such forums, indeed Hyde recalled the 1950s as "the years of competitions". (20) Yet, in 1951, a "Federation Jubilee Composers Competition" was opened to all British-empire nationals, and was won by yet another Londoner, David Moule-Evans. When Sculthorpe graduated from the University of Melbourne Conservatorium in the same year, it was into a compositional economy that was only beginning to undergo the modernisation that had overtaken English music twenty years earlier. Meanwhile, the Australian composer remained "often very much a prophet unsung", or so the Musical Times was told in a report on music in Sydney in 1958. The author, Fred Blanks nevertheless remained certain: "No one would claim that Australian composition can yet take its place on any international level". (21) As late as 1964, William Walton, guest-of-honour at that year's Adelaide Festival returned to England with the strong impression that Australia was still "more than a little suspicious of its composers". (22)

A series of concerts presented on the fringe of the 1964 festival by Donald Peart, Professor of Music at the University of Sydney and president of the Sydney branch of the ISCM (International Society for Contemporary Music), was the second of two cardinal events in the public launching of the 1960s "new wave" of Australian modernist composition. Performed there were Meale's Las Alboradas, Butterley's Laudes, George Dreyfus's From Within Looking Out, and Sculthorpe's Irkanda IV. In all four cases, these were the works that would cement their composers' early reputations. A year earlier, in April 1963, the "first" Australian Composers Seminar took place in Hobart. (23) In the session dedicated to his music, Sculthorpe--who along with Larry Sitsky was one of two notable younger participants--outlined the development of his musical voice through experiments in dissonance and with serialism, and identification with the desert landscape of the Australian "outback". In his mid twenties (in the third person of Roger Covell's conference report) "he began to feel that he had found a way; he began to tear music to the bone, using the device of repetition until perhaps it became boring--but the landscape at times was a little monotonous". He was "consciously trying to do something about this Australian loneliness, about the horizontal feeling of Australia as opposed to European verticality."

Donald Peart later referred to the "marked cleavage" at the Hobart seminar between the younger and older conferees; (24) the impression of one of the youngest composers present, Helen Gifford, was that: (25)
 The older generation lamented the lack of opportunities they'd had
 [...] What had been bottled up for years now came out in an
 unending recital of blighted lives.


The more constructive outcome was a perception that the older generation had finally "passed the baton" to a younger one. Felix Gethen observed that, as a result: "Australian composers are at the cross-roads", preparing "to face up to the challenge of the avant-garde". (26) Probably the most challenging moment of the seminar was a performance of Sitsky's new Wind Quartet, whose hard-edged modernism provoked some audible hissing from the small public audience. For Covell, the negative response was itself "like the breaking of a long drought of indifference. For once an Australian composer was being listened to with more than polite apathy." Sitsky's provocative stunt did not endear him to all the participants, however, and some of the personal patronage he might otherwise have enjoyed from his older composer-colleagues instead devolved on Sculthorpe. As a result of the conference, Sculthorpe reported privately that "the 'enemy' (Douglas, Hughes & Co.) is anxious to 'promote' me above everybody else". (27) They had approached him "saying that Australia needs one composer of international stature, one whom they can respect & so on. They feel that I'm 'it', & are anxious to do all within their power to help!" (28) After Hobart, Mirrie Hill, widow of Alfred Hill and herself a respected elder composer, commented of Sculthorpe: "If he were a race-horse, I'd back him". (29)

By the 1970s, he was entrenched in this leading role. In 1977, the noted political journalist David Marr (later biographer of novelist Patrick White) observed of Sculthorpe in the National Times: "He's the man (some say) who arrived at the right time, his career was as much created by Australia's wish to have a great composer, as his talent is to be it ... He fills the role as if it were some kind of public office". (30) Signally, an earlier recognition of Sculthorpe's potential importance came in 1970, when, in a personal letter, the then director of the NLA, Allan Fleming, inaugurated the institution's attempt to acquire Sculthorpe's papers. (31)

Within the musical academy, there are those (other composers of the "new wave" chief among them) who warmly contest any claims for Sculthorpe's preeminence. However, it was only by a process of critical selection of some (and exclusion of others) that the "new wave" got underway at all. Covell later blamed the lack of clear musical leadership hitherto on Australians' egalitarian streak, producing the fallow era of the 1950s when all composers "were deemed to be equally important--with the contrary result that many listeners outside their immediate circle of friends assumed that none of them was." (32) Significantly, then, in a 1964 newspaper supplement entitled "Australia Unlimited", it was Covell who described the "rise to prominence [of composers] for the first time in this country not working in outmoded styles"; he named six--Sculthorpe, Gifford, Dreyfus, Butterley, Meale, and Sitsky--as having "already given indications of impressive talent", and singled out Meale's Alboradas, Butterley's Laudes, and Sculthorpe's Irkanda IV, as promissory of "developments of a truly distinctive kind." (33)

With a seventh and eighth, Keith Humble and Felix Werder, this was the select few publicly "anointed" to lead Australian musical modernism, not only by the likes of Covell and Peart, but also by the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) and its federal director of music, John Hopkins. For those thus chosen it was, as Adrian Thomas observed, "the best of times", though for some older composers (notably Hyde, Douglas, Hughes and Sutherland) the ensuing decade proved to be "the worst of times". (34) Nevertheless, the game of weighing the relative importance of even the select few began early. At the 1963 Hobart seminar, Melbourne reviewer John Sinclair would compare Sitsky, who "may well be the most interesting" and "his future work might well be important", with Sculthorpe, who was "by far the most promising and accomplished" of the younger participants. (35) A decade later, James Murdoch described Meale as "the dominating figure in Australian composition" and Butterley as "secure in his place as one of the leading Australian composers", while Sculthorpe he carefully distinguished as "the most successful of composers in Australia" (my italics). (36)

The Sculthorpe Papers and "Sculthorpe scholarship"

Sculthorpe has placed no restrictions at all on access to his NLA collection. Following the library's protocols, the current organisation of the papers still largely observes divisions imposed upon the collection over time by Sculthorpe himself and by his secretary of the last almost twenty years, Adrienne Levenson. (37) In a review completed early in 2007, however, the NLA manuscript archivists relabelled the main divisions of the complete collection (MS 9676) into series (Nos 1-25), which are further divided into numbered folders; thus MS 9976/1/1 indicates series 1 folder 1. Unfortunately, individual sheets and items within each folder are not separately numbered, a shortcoming that leaves considerable potential for the displacement or even loss of items, but which, more positively, also leaves the opportunity open for some later reordering and consolidation. Already, as the NLA's Finding Aid to the collection indicates, some "minor reorganisation ... had been carried out to maintain chronological order". The most important divisions of the collection are now as follows:
Series Contents Comments

1 Correspondence "in" Mostly chronological
 (c.1957-2002)

2 Correspondence "out" "
 (c.1963-2002)

3 Correspondence with Faber "
 Music (PS's publisher)
 in (c.1965-2002)

4 Correspondence with Faber "
 Music (PS's publisher)
 out (c.1965-2002)

5 Correspondence with The original selection was
 composers, writers and PS's own, arranged by name,
 artists though he was by no means
 complete in carrying out
 his intentions; more letters
 to and from most of the
 named correspondents is
 still to be found in
 Series 1 and 2

6 Family correspondence Mainly letters to and from
 (c.1956-88) PS's mother, Edna Sculthorpe

9 Musical Works--Manuscript Juvenilia (J 1-34), then
 scores (c.1941-2001) from 1944 follows the work
 numbers (W 1-224) allotted
 by Deborah Hayes (1993)
 and continued by PS and
 Levenson (W 225-305) to
 2001; scores of some
 numbered works are lost or
 missing

10 Musical Works--Ephemera 180 separate folders on
 almost all works (by title)
 containing concert programs,
 fliers, notes, press
 clippings, some
 correspondence &c; some
 material was misfiled by PS

12 PS's writings (notes, 34 folders (by title)
 drafts, lists, jottings)
 on his own works

13 Other writings by PS 96 folders (by subject)

16 Personalia 13 folders (includes first
 piano tutor, 1938, PS's
 boyhood poems (c.1942-47),
 and family history
 documentation

20 Press cuttings (1945-94) Including 3 folders of early
 press clippings (many
 sources still to be
 unidentified)


The notable absence of sketch material in the collection reflects the composer's own priorities and working methods. He usually worked in pencil, from the early stages of composition entering detail directly into what would become the final score, which was then sometimes simply inked-over by a music-assistant. Such occasional sheets of sketches as he made, usually while working at the piano, he often threw away, and those that survive are as likely to consist of verbal cues and numerical tables (usually lists of section durations) as musical notation. There were even occasions when, after a work was published, he erased the original pencil scores. One instance of this occurred, Sculthorpe recalled, late in 1970 when he ran out of his favourite American manuscript paper, (38) and so rubbed out several original scores in order to use the paper again. Generally, he did not retain superseded earlier versions of scores later revised (often prior to publication). After he purchased his first photocopier early in 1963, and until the late 1990s when his then assistant John Peterson began computer typesetting his works-in-progress, he often carried out meticulous revisions by means of cutting and pasting and correction-fluid, changes which when photocopied again were intended to be were virtually undetectable to the eye.

There have been three previous monographs dedicated to Sculthorpe, each of which has made extensive use of some part of this archive. Michael Hannan's Peter Sculthorpe: His Music and Ideas (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1982), based on his 1977 doctoral thesis, took a mainly analytical approach to the works mainly of the first period. Hannan was Sculthorpe's regular music assistant and from 1969 through to 1974; he was directly involved in the realisation of such works as Essington (1974) and Rites of Passage (1972-73), and much of his account is based directly on the composer's recollections. Deborah Hayes's Peter Sculthorpe: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993) is invaluable for its thorough (though not exhaustive) chronological listing of all published written material mentioning Sculthorpe and his works. Many of the 1200 entries in her annotated bibliography were sourced from cuttings in Sculthorpe's own files (Series 10 and 20). The third, and historically most problematic book was Sculthorpe's own memoir, Sun Music: Journeys and Reflections from a Composer's Life (Sydney: ABC Books, 1999) which, compiled almost entirely from hindsight, inevitably represented the composer's reinterpretation and to some extent reinvention of his past. However, it was what I perceived to be its shortcomings of detail that prompted me, with Sculthorpe's active encouragement, to embark on a fourth book, my newly released biography Peter Sculthorpe: The Making of an Australian Composer, covering the "first period" (1929-1974).

In its heavy reliance on the huge body of hitherto unused contemporary documentary material, my account will perhaps be read as a corrective of the composer's own later recollections, including some of those recorded previously by Hannan and Hayes. There was seldom, I believe, a conscious attempt at either deception or systematic reinvention on Sculthorpe's part, though I would argue that time and the wisdom of hindsight often exercised its distorting effect on memory. In his memoir, for instance, Sculthorpe described his first trip to Japan in 1968, a crucial event in his artistic formation, as lasting "several months", whereas a careful reading of the documentation indicates that he can have been there no longer than three weeks. Then there were the many cases of opinions which Sculthorpe believes he'd always held, but which seemed to run opposite to those he expressed, often to a wide range of people and with considerable vehemence, in early letters and press interviews. Fortunately, Sculthorpe was as fascinated by the emerging contradictions as I was, and, apart from correcting factual errors during his close readings of two versions of my text (as first completed in 2005, and as revised in 2006), did not ask me to make any substantive changes before publication.

The most important body of new material now made available in the NLA collection and presented in my book is Sculthorpe's correspondence. The huge incoming correspondence (notably in Series 1, 3 and 5) is fascinating in its own right. (39) But of greater interest are Sculthorpe's letters to his mother, dating from between 1956 and 1973, a resource that goes some way toward making up for the fact that he has never consistently kept a diary. Sculthorpe clearly regarded her as an important sounding-board for his musical aspirations and ideas. And though not so much a domineering figure as, in their different ways, Rose Grainger or Edith Britten were in the lives of their sons, Edna Sculthorpe (1901-1994) was his closest confidante through all the years covered by my biography. Read together with smaller but important archives of Sculthorpe's letters--to Rex Hobcroft dating from his student years in Melbourne in the late 1940s (NLA, MS 8019), to Curt and Marea Prerauer in the early 1960s (NLA, MS 10040, newly acquired in 2006), to his publisher Donald Mitchell, and to students Ross Edwards and Michael Hannan in the late 1960s and early 1970s--this correspondence gives a view of Sculthorpe's first period not previously revealed, namely one based largely on his first impressions.

The 1963-64 correspondence drafts

Inevitably, when one is dealing with such an enormous (and yet to be fully charted) archive as the NLA's Sculthorpe collection, new material pertaining to the period covered by my book, and that might have altered its content, continues to come to light. In particular, a folder labelled as containing outward correspondence from the mid 1970s (MS 9676/2/3) has recently been revealed to contain over a hundred pages of Sculthorpe's letter drafts dating from 1963-64. Fortuitously, this period coincides precisely not only with the momentous birth of the Australian "new wave" outlined briefly above, but also with Sculthorpe's own public emergence as a figure of national interest.

After two years spent undertaking postgraduate study at Oxford, Sculthorpe returned to Australia late in 1960 because his father was terminally ill. Joshua Sculthorpe died the following June, and Sculthorpe's first major work, Irkanda IV (1961) for solo violin, strings and percussion, composed in his father's memory, was premiered in Melbourne in August by the Astra String Orchestra. Sculthorpe spent much of the following year, 1962, biding his time, attempting to arrange further performances and print publication of the work, scoring small-scale feature and documentary films, and applying for university teaching positions in Melbourne and Sydney. By contrast, 1963 saw an extraordinary run of good fortune, beginning when he received his first national press exposure, in an article in the weekly Nation on 23 March 1963 headlined "Praise for Sculthorpe". In it Curt Prerauer cited Irkanda IV as producing "the elation which overcomes one when one is faced with a great work of art [...] What I have seen and heard of Sculthorpe's works makes me think he is the first Australian composer to unite in his music all the elements that could constitute such an elusive thing as an Australian idiom." Then, in the same month (just prior to the Hobart seminar) he received his first orchestral commission from the ABC. In July he learned that he had been appointed lecturer in music at the University of Sydney, and soon after was awarded the inaugural Alfred Hill Memorial Award, a commission to compose a string quartet for the national Musica Viva Society which resulted in his String Quartet No 6 (1965).

Dating from July 1963 through to early February 1964, these newly identified drafts provide further timely insights, in the composer's own words, into this watershed period. They include draft letters to composers Richard Meale, Robert Hughes, Mirrie Hill, Felix Gethen, and Margaret Sutherland, academics Donald Peart (Professor of Music at the University of Sydney), Rex Hobcroft (then Director of the University of Tasmanian Conservatorium), and John Bishop (Elder Professor of Music at the University of Adelaide), and conductors Bernard Heinze, Thomas Matthews, and George Logie-Smith.

Several drafts relate to the completion, recording, and editing of the major ABC commission, The Fifth Continent (1963), for orchestra and narrator (texts from D.H. Lawrence's Kangaroo), in mid 1963, for which he was paid 100 [pounds sterling] on delivery. These include draft letters to Joseph Post (the ABC's Acting Federal Director of Music) who commissioned the work to be the organisation's entry in the 1963 Italia Radio Prize, and detailed instructions on the editing of the broadcast tape addressed to Rex Wallis (an ABC Melbourne sound technician). In a draft addressed to Margaret Sutherland, we learn of Sculthorpe's "heart-breaking" experience with the Victorian [Melbourne] Symphony Orchestra at the rehearsals and recording sessions in early July:
 Having been allotted 3 sessions in which to rehearse & record the
 work (34 min[ute]s duration) the ABC decided that one of the
 sessions must be devoted to some [William] Lovelock work! Of
 course, I soon fixed that. But, the orchestra! [...] Intonation is
 abominable.


In other drafts he warned Roger Covell: "Lest you be too shocked, [the third movement] "S[mall] T[own]" is very tonal", and, writing to Bernard Heinze when sending him a copy of the score, explained:
 You will notice that it's not an "avant-garde" piece ... it was
 written, in the first place as music for radio, so that I hope it
 may be music for "the many". If you were interested in perf[orming]
 the work, Sir Bernard, perhaps we could ask somebody like P[atrick]
 White to do the narr[ation].


Many of the drafts mention his new lectureship, which he would take up in November 1963. To his new boss Donald Peart late in July, Sculthorpe talked-up his interest in standard repertoire hoping that "next year [...] I may be able to pass on to students some of my love for such works as La M[er] and Trist[an]." Anticipating possible inputs into his newly commissioned string quartet, elsewhere he had mentioned the impact made on him by Ginastera's Second Quartet, while a draft letter to Peart notes his interest in "Allan Forte's article claiming Bartok's use of serial processes in the 4th Q[uartet]". (40) The Peart drafts are all headed "Dear Prof", but so, too, is another to John Bishop in Adelaide, thanking him for acting as a referee for the Sydney post, and explaining that his appointment was in line with "P[eart's] hopes to build up a school of cont[emporary] comp[osition] & mus[ical] thought" in the Sydney music department.

Another draft is a letter of thanks to Covell for reporting on the appointment in the Sydney Morning Herald: "Actually [...] I didn't know that the appointment was off[icial] until a friend came rushing up [to me in] Collins St[reet] in Melb[ourne] waving a copy of the SMH", and, from the same draft, we learn that Covell had also been on the selection panel that awarded Sculthorpe the Alfred Hill commission. Another draft is of Sculthorpe's letter of thanks to the award's donor, Mirrie Hill, in which he observed, with particular reference to his Irkanda IV:
 Rex Hobcroft [...] feels that my work is related more to yours than
 any other composer at the sem[inar] ... Evidently we both "sing"
 out with feeling; perhaps this is 'unfashionable', but, for me, if
 music doesn't sing, then it ceases to be music [...] Evidently, if
 we show any influence at all in our music, the most predominant is
 that of Bloch! (41)


After The Fifth Continent, Sculthorpe composed a short work for the ABC Tasmanian Orchestra and its English resident conductor, Thomas Matthews. Entitled Kings Cross Overture (1963), this now lost score was based partly on a calypso number from his 1957 music for a Sydney revue Cross Section, and partly on the "Last Post" music from the "Small Town" movement of The Fifth Continent (later still recycled in a short film score El Alamein Fountain (1964), completed in February). (42) As a draft letter to Robert Hughes (the ABC's Melbourne music librarian) indicates, he hoped the Overture might also prove of interest to the Victorian Symphony Orchestra's new resident conductor, Georges Tzipine, who had also asked him for a new work. As Sculthorpe described the overture to Hughes: "The piece will be 8-10 min[ute]s duration, & very much Tzipine--a sort of Gershwin-Milhaud-Copland (i.e. the lighter Copland) piece."

In a draft dating from September to Franz Holford, the Sydney-based editor of the music journal Canon, Sculthorpe expressed the hope, apropos the lectureship, "that financial sec[urity] will mean that I shall never again have to worry [...] in the future all my music will be written comp[letely] for love, & not nec[essarily] for money! Often, over the past few years, there has been too little time for ser[ious] work." (43) To underline his point, in the same draft, he mentioned: "I've just finished a K[ings] C[ross] O[verture], but, unf[ortunately] it's too 'jazzy' to use in an orch[estral] conc[ert] prog[ram] as planned." He offered a fuller explanation in a draft letter to Joseph Post:
 Last week I played the piece to Thomas & Eileen Matthews, & both
 felt, in my own interests, that it was too 'light' in character
 [...] they felt that after The F[ifth] C[ontinent], people expect
 something really important.


Nevertheless, he insisted that the Overture "is quite characteristic, & cer t[ainly] not 'wr[itten] down' to an audience."

A draft letter to Matthews in Hobart includes Sculthorpe's advice on conducting forthcoming performances there of Irkanda IV, and in another to violinist Ernest Llewelyn (who was to have taken part in the Hobart performance but did not) he made the interesting observation that the work "isn't a concerto, or concertino, is any sense, but I think that the solo line is no less telling for this." Another carefully worked-over draft is for a new program note for the work, at the end of which he honed a description of his compositional procedure also used later in describing the Sixth Quartet:
 The one mov[ement], pred[ominantly] slow, is made up of [begin
 strikethrough] the alternation of [end strikethrough] a ritual
 [begin strikethrough] chanting [begin strikethrough] lamentation,
 heard at the outset, with developments of the intervals [begin
 strikethrough] intoned by the solo violin [begin strikethrough]
 used in the lamentation [...] There is little dev[elopement] in the
 19th [century] sense, but, growth by accretion, almost, it might be
 said, like playing with building blacks made out of sound.


There is also a draft letter to Meriel Wilmot, who with Margaret Sutherland was then managing the Australian Music Fund. In collaboration with the musical publishers Allans & Co, and with financial support of the Myer Foundation, the AMF had just published a printed score of an alternative version of Irkanda IV without violin soloist. Sculthorpe had only capitulated to making the new version on commercial grounds (the argument being that performances would be cheaper to mount without a soloist), but then felt obliged to recommend it above his preferred original. Yet, as he told Wilmot, despite having "done my best to persuade the comm[ittee] to do the work in the new version", Peart and the ISCM had insisted on programming the original for their Adelaide Festival concerts in March 1964. He added, however: "For the future [...] I do know that both R[udolf] Pekarek in Br[isbane], & H[enry] Krips in Ad[elaide] are int[ending] perf[ormances]" of the published version.

Meanwhile, Donald Peart had asked Sculthorpe for a new work suitable for an ISCM concert in Sydney in November 1963, coinciding with his arrival in the city. Taking up an observation by Thomas and Eileen Matthews that parts of The Fifth Continent somehow reminded them of Sidney Nolan's "Leda and the Swan" lithographs, Sculthorpe proposed in September that the new work would be a set of piano pieces based directly on the Nolan series. Though elsewhere he claimed to have "finished" the pieces, he explained in the draft to Peart:
 For some reason, I came to a st[andstill] with the Leda pieces;
 perhaps the difficulty was in rel[ating] music to painting. I
 decided to forget all about Leda & the Swan, because, in any case,
 the work seemed more concerned with sun, i.e. the "dark sun of
 Lawrence", & thus, Professor, the exact title is now: SUN: Five
 Pieces for Pianoforte.


In another draft in mid October, however, he reported:
 Having just finished the "Sun" pieces, I've decided that they'd be
 much better for orchestra than, as they are, for piano. Thus, with
 a fortnight to go, I've decided to write a piano sonata to submit
 to the ISCM, & play at the concert, Nov. 1st.


In tandem with preparations for a repeat performance of Irkanda IV in Melbourne late in 1963, a draft letter to conductor George Logie Smith raised the possibility of Sculthorpe composing a new song cycle for the Tasmanian soprano Gwynneth Dixon to perform in the Astra String Orchestra's 1964 season: "I'm sure that I'll have something for you next year, G[eorge], & I would like it to be a song-cycle, a sort of mystic, ecstatic, incantatory piece." By early in 1964, he was anticipating the Astra songs being premiered "for the opening of the M[elbourne] C[ultural] C[entre]" [the National Gallery of Victoria]. In a draft letter to the novelist, Patrick White, he mentioned his initial interest in setting poems by James McAuley, (44) but commented:
 At present, the Six Days of Creation of James Mc[Auley] int[erests]
 me most, but there must be something better ... Have you anything,
 Patrick? Either a sequence of poems, or one longish poem?


But when White suggested (letter 12 January 1964) that he instead consider Robert Lowell's Imitations, Sculthorpe explained:
 I find that I am quite unable to stay with anything that's not
 Australian, the only exception, so far, being the Old Testament [in
 Prophecy (1958)]. It's not that I want to bash the kerosene tin &
 things, but rather that I can't seem to write about anything for
 which I haven't some honest feeling.


Another set of verse Sculthorpe considered was Charles Higham's Bush Sequence, which in a draft letter to the author he described as "exactly right". After his first meeting with Patrick White, and moving from provincial Launceston to metropolitan Sydney, however he changed his mind:
 I've an imm[ense] urge to write explosive & un-b[ush] music, at
 least for a while; thus, I've decided to postpone writing the work
 for Astra until it's right for me & for your poems. As you may
 know, P[atrick] W[hite] has written 6 Songs for me, & they're
 terrifying, but they demand several soloists & en[ormous] forces,
 beyond the Astra. Strange, [...] I was so much with the L[awrence]
 of K[angaroo] and [your] "D[usk] at W[aterfall]" (45) [but since
 then] Sydney has had a tremendous effect on me.


The most valuable of the new material are Sculthorpe's drafts of letters to White himself, the "sent" copies of which have not survived. In all likelihood they perished as early as October 1964, in a "bonfire of letters and manuscripts [that] burned for two days in a pit" in White's backyard before he moved house, and in which the early drafts of, among others, his novels The Tree of Man and Voss were also destroyed. (46) Accordingly, the letter drafts are now the unique records of Sculthorpe's side of a short but intense correspondence, concerning their collaboration on a projected opera, A Fringe of Leaves (based on an early version of White's later novel of the same title, which was in turn based on Sidney Nolan's "Mrs Fraser" series of painting) and on an orchestral song cycle, Six Urban Songs, on lyrics by White. The new drafts complement White's surviving letters to Sculthorpe (preserved in folders MS 9676/5/80-82), but also White's and Sculthorpe's correspondence with their mutual friends, Curt and Marea Prerauer, in which both projects are also discussed in detail. (47)

Drafting a quick reply early in December 1963, Sculthorpe indicated that he'd received the Urban Songs texts from White in the previous day's post. He admitted that White's explosive lyrics had "jolted" him somewhat., and later also raised with White his worries about the projected scale of the Songs, and whether, in bringing to performance a 30-minute orchestral cycle for large forces, including chorus and soloists, "the costs involved [might] be too great":
 At what kind of concert would such a work be perf[ormed]? All this
 of course, considering our only patron in Australia, the ABC.
 People are keen to push my work, but would such a work be pushing
 people too far?


Before settling on A Fringe of Leaves, he and White also considered other subject possibilities for the opera, which, with designs by Nolan, the national Elizabethan Trust Opera Company was then proposing to commission for the opening of the Sydney Opera House. Having seen White's play A Cheery Soul in Melbourne in December, Sculthorpe told the author that it was "almost tailor-made as an opera libretto", though cautioned:
 [...] strictly a chamber opera, even an experimental opera; not the
 kind of work that could become part of the rep[ertoire], & not the
 kind of work for a hideously grand occasion [as] first Aust[ralian]
 opera in the [Sydney] Op[era] House. In fact, the first
 Aust[ralian] opera!


Alternatively, there was one other White novel that might become the basis for "the first Australian opera", as he told the author: "For ten years, or more, I've felt that The A[unt's] S[tory] could be it." But alas, within a year of its hopeful inception, the White-Sculthorpe collaboration ran foul of mutual misunderstandings, which both David Marr and I have described elsewhere, (48) and neither the much anticipated "Australian opera" nor the orchestral song cycle was ever completed.

Sculthorpe, however, continued to be fascinated by Nolan's Mrs Fraser paintings, and the real-life story behind them (of a nineteenth-century lady who, shipwrecked on an island off the Queensland coast, is rescued by an escaped convict, who became her lover, but who she later betrayed to the authorities). After his break with White, Sculthorpe and Nolan continued to work on the opera with another writer Alan Moorehead, before, in 1966, proposing that "Mrs Fraser" would make a better ballet (for Australian choreographer Robert Helpmann). That proposal was also superseded, and it was not until 1977 that Sculthorpe finally completed a brief scena, entitled Eliza Fraser Sings, to a text by another prospective

librettist, Barbara Blackman. But it was most tellingly in the first orchestral score of Sculthorpe's "second period", Mangrove (1979) that the "Mrs Fraser" story was finally knitted into the rich synthesis of imagery that characterised Sculthorpe's mature music. (49) Sculthorpe has described the work's title as "find[ing] many resonances in my mind: [including] memories of times spent among mangroves; thoughts of Sidney Nolan's rainforest paintings, in which Eliza Fraser and the convict Bracefell become, through love, birds and butterflies and Aboriginal graffiti." (50) It was also a belated realisation of hopes first mooted to White, when in a letter draft in December 1963, Sculthorpe responded to a lyric White had sent him for the love scene of the Mrs Fraser opera: (51)
 I'm very excited about the [opera] synopsis & all the love &
 water-lily poetry already makes music in my mind:

 Where do light or water end,
 And I begin?


Graeme Skinner (1)

(1.) Graeme Skinner was a 2007 Harold White Fellow at the National Library of Australia, Canberra, and is author of a biography, Peter Sculthorpe: The Making of An Australian Composer (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2007) covering the composer's life up until 1974. An early version of this article, "The Peter Sculthorpe Papers: from Bibliography to Biography", was read in the "Australian Archives" session on 5 July 2007, at the IAML Annual Conference, University of Sydney Conservatorium.

(2.) Sculthorpe's papers dating from after the initial acquisition in 2002 will, in due course, be added to the collection.

(3.) For instance, in Jim Cotter, Larry Sitsky: Conversations with the Composer (Canberra: National Library of Australia, 2004), p. 56-57, Sitsky disposed of the suggestion that Grainger was "our version of Charles Ives"; Sitsky was also "very uncomfortable with him as a founding figure of Australian music because I am just not sure where the commitment was."

(4.) Quoted by Matthew Westwood, Australian (28-29 February 2004).

(5.) Roger Covell, "Sculthorpe, Peter", in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd edn), (London : Macmillan Reference, 2000).

(6.) A preparatory study of Sculthorpe's teaching career was Gwyneth Barnes, Peter Sculthorpe, Teacher and Composer: A Study in Duality, (Ph.D thesis, University of NSW, 2000).

(7.) Daily Telegraph [Sydney] (2 November 1968).

(8.) Graeme Skinner (trans. Miguel Angel Coll), "Peter Sculthorpe: Los Espiritus del lugar", Sibila: Revista de arte, musica y literatura 21 (Sevilla, Abril 2006), p. 47-54.

(9.) Benjamin was Britten's piano teacher at the Royal College of Music, and exercised a strong musical influence on the young composer.

(10.) See James Murdoch, Peggy Glanville-Hicks: A Transposed Life (Hillsdale, N.Y.: Pendragon Press, 2002).

(11.) See David Symons, The Music of Margaret Sutherland (Sydney: Currency Press, 1997).

(12.) Agnew died in 1944; Sculthorpe discovered his piano music while a student in Melbourne in the late 1940s. In a draft letter to Malcolm Williamson in 1972 (MS 9676/2/2), Sculthorpe observed that Agnew had been "much neglected, following the revolution here in the sixties."

(13.) See Miriam Hyde, Complete Accord (Sydney: Currency Press, 1991).

(14.) Neville Cardus, "Music in Australia", Tempo 7 (Spring 1948), 11.

(15.) For instance, the novelist Miles Franklin took issue with Cardus's intemperate views; see Paul Brunton (ed.), The Diaries of Miles Franklin (Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2004), p. 206-07.

(16.) Sydney Morning Herald (15 October 1941); Cardus did not extend his opprobrium to performances that same year of orchestral works by the conservative English-born director of Sydney Conservatorium, Edgar Bainton.

(17.) See Beth Dean and Victor Carroll, Gentle Genius: A Life of John Antill (Sydney: Akron Press, 1987).

(18.) Concerning other composers of the early and mid century, The Australian Dictionary of Biography Online Edition has entries on Roy Agnew (by Dorothy Helmrich), Hooper Brewster Jones (Joyce Gibberd), Clive Douglas (G. W. Howard), Dorian Le Gallienne (Jeff Brownrigg), and Raymond Hanson (Peter Tregear).

(19.) Skinner, Peter Sculthorpe: The Making of An Australian Composer, p. 120.

(20.) Hyde, p. 121ff..

(21.) Fred Blanks, "Music in Australia--Sydney", Musical Times (January 1958), 36.

(22.) Music Magazine (August 1965), 11.

(23.) There had been a previous but largely uneventful "first" seminar during the inaugural 1960 Adelaide Festival; see the published proceedings, Report of the Australian UNESCO Seminar for Composers: Adelaide, 21-25 March 1960 (Australian National Advisory Committee for UNESCO, 1961).

(24.) Donald Peart, "The Australian Avant-Garde", Proceedings of the Royal Music Association 93 (1966-67), 5-6.

(25.) Gifford, personal interview with the author, 1999.

(26.) Canon (June 1963).

(27.) Peter Sculthorpe/Prerauer correspondence (NLA) [25 April 1963].

(28.) Peter Sculthorpe/Prerauer correspondence (NLA) [29 April 1963].

(29.) Skinner, p. 301.

(30.) National Times (4-11 July 1977).

(31.) Allan Fleming/Peter Sculthorpe correspondence, PS Collection NLA 1 April 1971.

(32.) Roger Covell, Australia's Music: Themes for a New Society (Melbourne: Sun Books, 1967), 144; see also the discussion of Covell's famous 1963 review of a concert of works by Moneta Eagles in Skinner, 288-289.

(33.) Sydney Morning Herald (13 July 1964).

(34.) Adrian Thomas, "The Climate of Change: the ABC as patron of Australian music during the Hopkins era", Australasian Music Research 7 (2002), 54.

(35.) Music and Dance (May/June 1963).

(36.) See also Andrew McCredie, Catalogue of 46 Australian Composers and Musical Composition in Australia (both Canberra: Advisory Board, Commonwealth Assistance to Australian Composers, 1969); and Frank Callaway and David Tunley, Australian Composition in the Twentieth Century (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1978).

(37.) The current author, as one of Sculthorpe's music assistants in the mid 1990s, also undertook at the composer's request a thorough sort of his manuscripts and photocopied scores (now Series 9), created the numbering system now used for his juvenilia, and dated and sorted much of the early correspondence.

(38.) At that time, Theodore Presser 24-stave.

(39.) Among the files in Series 5, which are arranged by author, are letters from (to name only other composers) Banks, Boyd, Dreyfus, Edwards, Glanville-Hicks, Mirrie Hill, Hyde, Colin Matthews, David Matthews, and Takemitsu.

(40.) Allen Forte, "Bartok's 'Serial' Composition", Musical Quarterly 46 (1960), p. 233-245.

(41.) He later noted: "I equated Bloch's biblical wilderness with the Australian wilderness and loneliness" (Skinner, 145).

(42.) The calypso number, originally titled "Manic Espresso" has resurfaced recently in his Darwin Calypso (2002); see also Skinner, 190.

(43.) A year earlier, when Sculthorpe was still earning most of his living working in the family sporting goods store in Launceston; Holford wrote to him (12 March 1962) "sorry that you are still tangled up with guns and rods. I can never think or say anything soothing or helpful when I realise the real position of Music in Australia. Somehow this country is underdeveloped & overexposed when it comes to art."

(44.) He had met the poet in December 1963, when McAuley was narrator in the first live performance of The Fifth Continent in Hobart.

(45.) Higham's "Dusk at Waterfall" was later published in Harry Heseltine (ed.), The Penguin Book of Australian Verse (Melbourne: Penguin 1972).

(46.) David Marr, Patrick White: Letters (Sydney: Random House, 1994), 266.

(47.) White and Sculthorpe had agreed that Marea Prerauer would give the first performance of the songs. As Marea Wolkowsky, she had been Marie in Wozzeck at Covent Garden in 1953. In a letter to the ABC's Director of Music, W.G. James (23 August 1955), Adrian Boult was of the opinion: "She has really upheld the honour of Australia in a remarkable way during the last few years [...] the first Australian since the war to have done any international singing." (NLA MS 10040).

(48.) David Marr, Patrick White: A Life (Sydney: Random House, 1991), 433-6, and Skinner, chapters 7 and 8 passim.

(49.) The Mrs Fraser story is also the basis of Great Sandy Island.

(50.) Quoted in Hayes, Peter Sculthorpe: A Bio-Bibliography, 68.

(51.) Sculthorpe quoted the White lyric in full in his memoir, Sun Music, 78-79.
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Date:Jan 1, 2008
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