Peter Sculthorpe has received the rare and prestigious honour of being made Comendador de la Orden de Isabel la Católica by H.M. the King of Spain, Juan Carlos I. The honour was conferred on him by the Spanish Ambassador to Australia at a ceremony in the Australian National Library in Canberra on 14th May 2011 (amidst the Canberra International Music Festival). A selection of Sculthorpe’s music accompanied the proceedings, and was performed by William Barton (didjeridu), Calvin Bowman (organ) and Synergy (percussion quartet).
Sculthorpe, who already holds an MBE, OBE, Order of Australia, and who is one of Australia’s National Living Treasures, received the Spanish Knighthood in recognition of his contribution to strengthening the musical ties between Spain and Australia.
Spain is an important region in Sculthorpe’s musical compass, which draws its influence from wide and exotic fields. His opera Quiros tells of the 17th C explorer Pedro Fernández de Quirós, who was the first European to arrive in Vanuatu. He named some of the islands, such as Torres, Espíritu Santo, Santa María and Pentecostés. In 1606 he gave the first official European name to what he thought to be the Great South Land (i.e. Australia) and which actually turned out to be the present-day Espíritu Santo: Austrialia del Espíritu Santo (The Austrian Land of the Holy Spirit – King Phillip II was of Austrian descent), the largest island in Vanuatu.
Sculthorpe’s Spanish connection was further explored in a 2010 concert for the Canberra International Music Festival, when some of his key piano works were inventively programmed alongside the music of de Falla, Granados, Albeniz and Mompou.