A sad day for Australian music; composer Peter Sculthorpe has died, aged 85. It seems an appropriate day to continue my investigation of music with nocturnal associations by writing about his ‘Night Pieces’ of 1971.
The suite of consists of ‘Snow, Moon and Flowers’, three short pieces of about grade 4-5 standard, followed by ‘Moon’, and then ‘Stars’, which is harder. It is a lovely set, providing a gentle way into 20th century music for those who wish to explore.
Here are Sculthorpe’s own programme notes –
- The moon one circle; stars numberless; sky dark green. Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902)
- My Night Pieces, apart from Stars, were first performed at the 1971 Festival of Perth, for which they were written. The opening bracket of pieces is based on a Japanese concept known as setsugekka, which means, literally, ‘snow, moon and flowers’. This concept is concerned with metamorphosis: moonlight, for instance, may make snow of flowers, and flowers of snow; and the moon itself may be viewed as an enormous snowflake or a giant white flower. The music of these three pieces, and of Stars, is concerned with transformations of similar harmonic and motivic structures. Night, on the other hand, is a free transcription of a part of my orchestral work Sun Music I (1965). It is related to the other pieces in its gong-like punctuation and its harmonic usage. Snow, Moon and Flowers is dedicated to Michael Hannan, Night to Anne Boyd and Stars to Peter Kenny. Peter Sculthorpe
Take care in these pieces with the composer’s markings re tenuto, dynamics and accents; use of pedal and imagination combine to create a colourful addition to the repertoire.
The Sydney Morning Herald‘s classical music critic Peter McCallum said Sculthorpe’s passing is a loss for the music world. “His charm mixed with an instinct for austerity, spareness and an imagination for the sounds of a lonely Australian place created a uniquely distinctive musical voice.”
“Sculthorpe was the first Australian composer to create a distinctly Australian sound and style that communicated to a wide local and international audience. Before Sculthorpe, most educated Australians could not have named an Australian composer. His genial influence on students and composers encouraged generations of composers to look inward rather than abroad to discover their own voice,” said McCallum.