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Peter Sculthorpe Composes

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.
Year of production - 1999
Duration - 1min 53sec
Tags - art, artists, creativity, music, see all tags


Peter Sculthorpe Composes

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About the Video Clip


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

Curriculum Focus


This Digital Resource can be used to achieve the following outcomes:
A student
5.1 responds to and composes increasingly sophisticated and sustained texts for understanding, interpretation, critical analysis and pleasure
5.7 thinks critically and interpretively using information, ideas and increasingly complex arguments to respond to and compose texts in a range of contexts
5.8 investigates the relationships between and among texts
5.9 demonstrates understanding of the ways texts reflect personal and public worlds

This material is an extract. Teachers and students should consult the Board of Studies website for more information.

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’.

Classroom Activities

  1. Write a 100-word summary of this video clip. In your summary include answers to the following questions.
    1. What are your impressions of Peter Sculthorpe?
    2. What does the video clip tell you about creativity?
    3. Who would be the best audience for the video clip?
    4. What is the message(s) of the video clip?
    1. In small groups discuss and write a definition for the term, ‘Australian Living National Treasure’. Include a list of 5–10 conditions candidates need to meet.
    2. Discuss and write reasons why Peter Sculthorpe is an ‘Australian Living National Treasure’.
    3. List five more people you would make a National Living Treasure if you had the chance Give reasons for your choices.
  2. Research the actual list on
    1. What does the list tell you about Australia?
    2. Choose one name from the list and write a 250-word notice for a media text announcing their selection and reason why you think they were chosen.
    3. Choose another name that interests you from the list and write a 600-word biography of that person.

Literacy Activity: Focus= Viewing / Listening

  1. How many instruments are needed for ‘Irkanda 1’? (1 mark)
  2. What does this piece of music represent? (1 mark)
  3. How does Peter describe himself as a composer? (1 mark)
  4. Why does Peter believe art is important? (1 mark)
  5. Does Peter believe he has accomplished his overall aim? (1 mark)

Further Resources


Go to Australian Biography and select Peter Sculthorpe.