Complexity through simplicity: how Peter Sculthorpe constructs a unique musical language


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This report discusses the mature works of Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe between the years of 1965-1976, a time period when the composer reached a peak of compositional output, gained international recognition, and refined his compositional craft and technique. Considered by many as Australia’s foremost composer of concert music, and the first to create a national identity, an analysis of Sculthorpe’s music creates an interesting case study around the formation of a unique musical language in the context of the twentieth century. A simplistic approach to fundamental musical structures (such as form and texture) delineates his work, combined with a colorful harmonic language, emphasis on melody, and a partiality for repetition. The result is a body of mature works that is consistent in sound and venerated by mainstream concert audiences. Complex subtleties in rhythm, both on the hypermetrical and sub-metrical level, innovative harmonic structures, and a clear sensibility for pacing offer a music that merits in-depth study by the theorist, composer, and performer alike. An Introduction chapter gives biographical information on Sculthorpe’s musical upbringing and early career, includes a global context between the years of 1965-1976 that emphasizes musical innovations in Europe and America, and gives a generalized summary of Sculthorpe’s stylistic and idiomatic conventions. Two of Sculthorpe’s works, Lament for Strings (1976) and Night Song (1970, arr. 1995) are analyzed in depth, giving evidence of Sculthorpe’s compositional virtuosity and stylistic consistency.



Peter Sculthorpe, Modern composition techniques, Lament for Strings, Night Song, Musical synthesis, Australian concert music

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Master of Music


School of Music, Theatre, and Dance

Major Professor

Craig A. Weston