Friday, November 14, 2014

Sculthorpe - music of big matters

Peter Sculthorpe, who died recently , aged 85, was a genuine great Australian talent (and a Tasmanian), prepared to tackle the big matters of Australia’s history in all its complexity, its darkness and light.

A small recollection related to his work stands out. I remember being in Northern Tasmania in 2003, about to start on the Bay of Fires walk. The drive to start the walk was due to depart from Quamby House near Launceston.

Bay of Fires shoreline - the Bay of Fires walk leaves from Qamby Estate, inland from Launceston in Northern Tasmania.

 Because it’s such an unusual name it stuck in my mind and on the day before in a bookstore in Launceston I found a recording of his piece entitled ‘Quamby’. It was originally Sculthorpe’s String Quartet No. 14, with a version for chamber orchestra created in 2000. He noted about the piece, “When I was young, my father told me a story about Quamby Bluff, a rather forbidding mountainous outcrop in the highlands of northern Tasmania.

There, according to legend, colonial government soldiers once drove a tribe of Aborigines to the bluff’s edge. The Aborigines had the choice of being shot, or jumping. They chose the latter, and as they jumped they cried out ‘Quamby! Quamby!’ meaning ‘Save me! Save me!’

It was perhaps inevitable that my thoughts about this incident and this place would find their way into a piece of music.”

This is a consolidated version of an earlier post to my Facebook page 'indefinite article',

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