Sculthorpe was one of the first people that I knew of before I actually knew. His name would appear occasionally in the Sydney Morning Herald, or in a gradually-collapsing paperback book I had on music in Australia. He was said to write that most terrifying of beasts, modern (modernist, even) Australian classical music. Funnily enough, when I met him I found him the complete opposite, gentle and urbane. He saw himself as being in that tradition of Australian artists who reacted traumatically to the Australian landscape (often talking about his Sun Music pieces as being in that tradition), but even his description of this tradition sounded gentle: he called it the 'melancholic tradition'. Contrast that with, say, Judith Wright:
Old King without a throneHe had something of the collector about him, collecting stories rather like he collected themes for his music. You could go through his works and find the same melodies all the time - or, as one of the compositional students remarked to me at one point, "It's that fucking Djililie melody again!" But this collecting always had a point to it; the stories always illustrated a personal point or a relationship, just as the melodies came to have a very intense significance in his music. He even collected things like bad reviews aimed at other composers: "Ross Edwards once had a critic write about his first piano concerto, 'This is a piece that gives A Major a bad name!' I would have loved to have something like that written about a piece of mine...." He also sometimes remarked on how much he loved Italian musical directions, and whereas since the 19th century composers had been writing musical directions in their own language, he found Italian much more expressive and useful for composing.
The hollow of despair...
Or this, about the commission and composition of Kakadu: "He came to me and said he'd like to commission a piece of music for his wife..... so naturally, I asked about her. He said, 'Well, she's the most wonderful person in the world'.... and after that I knew I had to write the music". I heard him tell that one on telly when I was still a school student, and then heard him tell it in person at uni, and I'm sure he went on telling it to his dying day. In Kakadu you can hear several of his favourite themes and the peculiar Australian wildness that he cultivated in his best compositional works - even one or two moments of characteristic Sculthorpian melancholy. It's a great piece to end on.