Irkanda IV by Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
This is a 30-second excerpt from the ABC recording of Peter Sculthorpe’s 'Irkanda lV’, released in 1967. The work is performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Hopkins. The violin soloist is Leonard Dommett.
Summary by Vincent Plush
The violin solo lends a mournful tone to Irkanda IV, which is fitting given it was written as a memorial to the composer’s late father. It also successfully evokes the 'remote and lonely place’ of the title. Since it was composed in 1961, 'Irkanda IV’ has been recorded at least seven times. Back in the 1960s, it was Sculthorpe’s first major work to be recorded and reach an international audience.
Irkanda IV synopsis
Irkanda IV is the fourth in a series of works sharing the title 'Irkanda’ (which the composer explains as ‘a remote and lonely place’). It is scored for solo violin, string orchestra and percussion. This ABC recording was made in 1967, performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Hopkins.
Irkanda IV is the first major work by leading Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe to be commercially recorded and to reach a national and international audience. It was written as a memorial to the composer’s father, Joshua Sculthorpe, who died in 1961 while Peter was studying at Oxford. 'Irkanda IV’ is also the first work to present to a wide audience Sculthorpe’s views on the deployment of Indigenous materials as a means of endowing Australian music with a recognisable national identity.
The first performance of the work was in August 1961 in Melbourne’s Nicholas Hall. It was performed by the Astra String Orchestra conducted by George Logie-Simth. It received largely positive reviews, considered by one critic as a first-rate piece, while others called it the ‘surprise’ of the music season. Sculthorpe’s reputation as one of Australia’s finest composers rose considerably with this work.
Peter Sculthorpe was born in Tasmania in 1929 and began writing music as a child. He studied at the Melbourne Conservatorium but, unable to earn a living as a composer, went back to Tasmania and joined the family business. He later won a scholarship to Oxford University and it was here that he began Irkanda lV. He never completed his doctorate at Oxford, instead completing Irkanda lV in memory of his father and returning to Australia. He has composed many other major works throughout his life, but Irkanda lV remains one of his standout pieces.
Sculthorpe joined the Music Department of the University of Sydney in 1961, and is now Emeritus Professor of Music, having retired in 1998 after nearly 40 years of teaching. He received an MBE in 1970 then OBE in 1977 and Order of Australia in 1990. Among his many honours, he has been popularly voted one of Australia’s 100 Living National Treasures (in 1998), named one of Australia’s 45 Icons (in 1999) and in 2002 became only the fourth Australian (after AD Hope, Sidney Nolan and Christina Stead) to be made a life member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Notes by Vincent Plush