Born in Launceston, Tasmania in 1929, Sculthorpe was educated at Launceston Church Grammar School, the University of Melbourne, and Wadham College, Oxford. He was Emeritus Professor at the University of Sydney, where he began teaching in 1964, a Harkness Fellow at Yale University, USA, and a visiting professor at Sussex University, UK, in 1971-72.
Sculthorpe’s rich and varied compositions (including an astonishing eighteen string quartets) are regularly performed and recorded throughout the world. His preoccupation with Australian landscape, environmental issues and the frailty of the human condition can be heard in works such as Earth Cry (1986) and Requiem (2003). The latter grew from his concern about women and children killed in the war in Iraq. While his String Quartet No. 16 (2006) addressed the plight of asylum-seekers in Australia detention centres, his String Quartet No. 18 (2010) was devoted to climate change. His output relates closely to the unique social and physical characteristics of Australia, and to the cultures of its Pacific Basin neighbours. Influences included much of the music of Asia - especially that of Japan and Indonesia – and, later, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island music and culture.
Appointed OBE in 1977 and AO in 1990, Sculthorpe was elected one of Australia’s Living National Treasures in 1998 and was recipient of a Silver Jubilee Medal. An Honorary Foreign Life Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, he held honorary doctorates from the universities of Tasmania, Melbourne, Sussex, Griffith and Sydney and in 2011 was awarded the Encomienda de la Orden de Isabel la Católica by Juan Carlos I of Spain. Sculthorpe died in 2014.