“I’m taking you on a journey through my life with string quartets… 70 years!” announces Peter Sculthorpe to a small studio audience gathered to celebrate his 83rd birthday, on April 29, 2012. And so he does, sharing anecdotes about his fascinating life, compositional processes, and use of motifs from Aboriginal music.

Part documentary, part concert film, Sculthorpe shares the stage with the magnificent Goldner String Quartet, with whom he had a long and fruitful association. The warmth and ease between them all is palpable. The Goldners have performed all of Sculthorpe’s quartets, and recorded many in his presence and under his direction.

This calls to mind the close relationship between Shostakovich and the Borodin Quartet; and Sculthorpe too was a socially conscious and political composer. In particular, his quartets address the plight of asylum seekers (No 16), Australia’s Indigenous histories (Nos 11, 14), and climate change (No 18). This is a fascinating, deeply moving film, an ethnographic history lesson with Sculthorpe as guide.

It is beautifully recorded with glorious performances of excerpts from ten quartets. Furthermore, it is an invaluable historical document. Essential viewing for Sculthorpe fans, and recommended for anyone interested in the string quartet’s development in the late 20th century.