Vale Nigel Butterley

Nigel Butterley
Nigel Butterley Image: supplied

On February 19, Sydney-based composer Nigel Butterley died two months before his 87th birthday after a long period of illness. Like his contemporaries Peter Sculthorpe and Richard Meale, he made his mark on the Australian music scene in the 1960s, with works such as Laudes (1963) and the award-winning radiophonic piece In the Head the Fire (1966), embarking on a career of creativity across composition, artistic planning, performance and academia. He was an accomplished pianist, keenly interested in poetry, language and ideas of the metaphysical, all of which permeated his work across a remarkable and influential career. His final work, from 2014, was a duo for soprano and cello, setting Kathleen Raine’s Nature changes at the speed of life.

Sadly for the Australia Ensemble UNSW, nature changed too quickly and the planned commission for 2015 was never able to be realised. The program instead included Butterley's Spindles of the Stars, a sparkling chamber work which also took inspiration from Raine’s poetry. Peter McCallum described the performance of the work as “introducing ideas of pointed rhythmic energy and swirling amorphous textures, before subsiding to a close of glowing calm”, perhaps encapsulating Nigel’s life devoted to the creation of music.

The Australia Ensemble pays tribute to the life and music of Nigel Butterley, extending sympathy to his partner Tom.