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Vale Nigel Butterley AM

Story Published Tuesday 22 February 2022
Composer Nigel Butterley has died, aged 86. Photo by Bridget Elliot

Nigel Butterley AM, one of the foremost Australian composers of his generation, has died at the age of 86. An accomplished pianist as well as a seasoned educator, Nigel became an APRA member in 1953.

“Nigel's music, in its intelligence, intricacy, and impact, deeply reflects his own passion and curiosity of music and the world around him. He was an avid educator of both his students, and anyone lucky enough to find themselves in conversation with him. His generosity and wit will be sorely missed, but we are grateful for the gift of his music”, said Cameron Lam, APRA AMCOS Art Music Lead

Since establishing his reputation with the instrumental octet Laudes (1963), Nigel’s output included works for solo piano, four string quartets, and other chamber music, the orchestral Meditations of Thomas Traherne (1968) and From Sorrowing Earth (1991), the opera Lawrence Hargrave Flying Alone (1988), and music for choir, vocal ensemble and solo voice.

He was awarded the Italia Prize for In the Head the Fire (1966) and the Paul Lowen Orchestral Prize for Spell of Creation (2001), for soloists, choir and orchestra.

As a pianist Nigel Butterley was best known for accompanying and for his many performances throughout Australia of Messiaen's Visions of the Amen and John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano.

After some years as an ABC broadcaster, Nigel took on lecturing duties in contemporary music at Newcastle Conservatorium in 1973. When the Conservatorium became part of The University of Newcastle, Nigel was appointed Senior Lecturer, and taught until 1991. In later years he taught composition at Sydney Conservatorium, worked with HSC student composers, and tutored for the Amateur Chamber Music Society.

In 1991 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia. Nigel was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in music from the University of Newcastle in 1996.

An Ian Potter Music Commission and the Albert H Maggs Composition Award 2004 enabled him to write two works programmed to mark his 70th birthday in 2005.

Our thoughts are with his family, friends and students. He will be missed, but not forgotten.