Sculthorpe writes new work in aid of climate change

Peter Sculthorpe has made a plea for action on climate change, in his new String Sonata No 5 for the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Steve Meacham in The Age writes about this new effort by Sculthorpe and his passion for creating environmental awareness through his music.

String Sonata No. 5 was performed at Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, on 29 and 30 October 2010.

The Age, October 2010
'On a perfect spring morning, with the scent of jasmine giving him a touch of hay fever, Peter Sculthorpe is sitting in his idyllic cottage garden in Woollahra contemplating the end of the world as we know it.
Australia's leading internationally acclaimed composer has long used his love of the environment as inspiration for his music.
His latest work, String Sonata No. 5  is his musical plea for government action against global warming.

As a "passionate believer in man-made climate change", Sculthorpe, 81, has used the con's invitation to write a new work for its anniversary project, 101 Compositions for 100 Years, to publicise his frustration with "successive governments that have done next to nothing''.

The new piece is a reworking - complete with extra movement - of his String Quartet No. 18, which was commissioned by the Edinburgh Festival. The prelude introduces what he calls "the Kepler motif". It was once believed that as the planets moved through the sky they made music, which in Roman times came to be known as the Music of the Spheres.
PS: "The astronomer Kepler, a contemporary of Shakespeare, tried to compute it. His sound for planet Earth is the alternation of the pitches A flat and G. This has become very important for me when I am writing about planet Earth. My opera Rites of Passage is also partly based on the Kepler motif."

Sculthorpe says the first movement also contains "insect sounds setting up that this work is going to be about Australia. Tackling the whole subject of climate change was too big a task. So I decided to describe my feelings about what could happen in outback Australia."
His second movement is called A Land Singing. Cries of birds appear alongside an Aboriginal chant called Windmill, juxtaposed with suggestions of didgeridoo patterns. "It's basically a happy movement," Sculthorpe says.

In A Dying Land, the third movement, the composer again uses the Kepler motif, slowly fading. "It's not dramatic or operatic. There is no high drama. It reflects my feeling that climate change is going to result in a slow deterioration of the land."

He describes the next movement, A Lost Land, as ''the emotional heart of the work. Almost everything from the previous movements has gone. There are no birds, no insects, just a desolate land. I've used the contours of a Torres Strait island song called Waiye.
"It is a very nostalgic song to do with the rising and falling of tides. Already tides are rising in the Torres Strait. At least one island is endangered. So the Kepler motif returns… So do the references to the didgeridoo. I also decided to use the well-known hymn tune, O God, Our Help in Ages Past.  I wouldn't say I was particularly Christian, although I was brought up as an Anglican. But it's a hymn which seems to mean a lot to us in Australia. We sing it on national days of mourning, in Aboriginal communities, in funerals. It provides the comfort of hope.  Towards the end, I clothe the piece with Bach-like figurations and give it a sense of an uplifting spirit. The birds return at the end. What it is saying is that, even with the worst effects of climate change, it can still be reversed.'
The Age (Steve Meacham), October 2010