Harrison Birtwistle

Biography

Born: July 15, 1934; Accrington, England  
Sir Harrison Birtwistle started taking clarinet lessons as a youth and was composing by age 11. In 1952 he won a scholarship to the Royal Manchester College of Music, where he studied with Richard Hall. There he encountered a group of like-minded young musicians -- Peter Maxwell Davies, Alexander Goehr, John Ogdon, and Elgar Howarth -- with whom he formed the New Music Manchester group, which specialized in performances of modern music. Read more Birtwistle continued his studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London with clarinetist Reginald Kell, and made his living as a professional clarinetist for a time. His earliest surviving composition, Refrains and Choruses (1957), and other early works like the Monody for Corpus Christi (1959), show a certain debt to the music of Igor Stravinsky, and feature a combination of serialism and Medieval techniques.

From 1962 to 1965 Birtwistle served as Director of Music at the Cranborne Chase School in Dorset. In 1966 he won a Harkness International Scholarship which enabled him to spend two years in the United States, the first of which was spent as a visiting fellow at Princeton University. While there, he wrote his one-act opera Punch and Judy (1966-1967). Back in England in 1967, Birtwistle formed the Pierrot Players with Peter Maxwell Davies. The group specialized in new musical works with a theatrical element, and Birtwistle wrote several works for them, the last of which was Medusa (1969, rev. 1970 and 1978). After Davies took over the Pierrot Players in 1970 and reformed them as the Fires of London, Birtwistle and clarinetist Alan Hacker formed a similar group, Matrix. Through the 1960s Birtwistle became known as one of the leading avant-garde composers in England.

In 1973, Birtwistle served as Cornell Visiting Professor at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. Two years later he was appointed musical director of the new National Theatre on the South Bank in London. Compositionally he devoted much of the 1970s and early '80s to his opera The Mask of Orpheus (1974-1977, rev. 1984). It and works like The Triumph of Time (1972) examine one of Birtwistle's favorite themes, the cyclic nature of time and how this idea can be conveyed in music. Three further operas, Gawain (1991, rev. 1994), The Second Mrs. Kong (1993-1994), and The Last Supper (2000), followed.

Birtwistle received his knighthood in 1988. By this time, he was exploring larger sounds and gestures in his music, as in the orchestral work Earth Dances (1985-1986). His music continued to attract attention in the 1990s. On the last night of the 1995 BBC Proms, his work Panic for saxophone, drummer, and orchestra was premiered and broadcast to a worldwide audience of some 100 million people. The festival Secret Theatres: The Harrison Birtwistle Retrospective was held at London's Royal Festival Hall in April and May 1996; the festival was named after his composition Secret Theatre (1984). The latter was written for the London Sinfonietta, for which Birtwistle has written often, starting with Verses for Ensembles (1969) and including the oft-performed Silbury Air (1977).

At the end of 2000 Birtwistle served as Director of Composition at London's Royal College of Music, was the Henry Purcell Professor of Composition at King's College London, and was Composer in Residence with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Read less

There are 50 Harrison Birtwistle recordings available.

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Works

Harrison Birtwistle


MOST POPULAR WORKS
Introduction
The Opening of the Door
The Challenge
The Court becomes Visible
He Strikes the Blow
Lullaby
Vision of the Hunt I
Seduction Scene
Vision of the Hunt II
The Journey
Vision of the Hunt III
Morgan goes through into the Blizzard
quarter note = c.40
5 bars after [4]
1 bar after [10]
6 bars before [14]
[19]
[21]
[31]
[37]
[39]
WORKS
Introduction
The Opening of the Door
The Challenge
The Court becomes Visible
He Strikes the Blow
Lullaby
Vision of the Hunt I
Seduction Scene
Vision of the Hunt II
The Journey
Vision of the Hunt III
Morgan goes through into the Blizzard
Prologue
Homage to Judy
Resolve I
Passion Chorale I
Toccata I B
Pretty Polly's Rhapsody I
Sinfonia
War-Cry
Toccata II B
Pretty Polly's Rhapsody II
Act I: Parados
Act I Scene 1: the First Poem of Reminiscence
Act I Scene I: First Act of Love - First Duet of Love
Act I Scene 1: First Passing Cloud
Act I Scene 1: First Structure of Decision
Act I Scene 1: First Ceremony
Act I Scene 1: First Love Duet
Act I Scene 1: First Song of Magic
Act I Scene 1: First Immortal Dance
Act I Scene 2: First Cry of Memory
Act I Scene 2: Second Passing Cloud
Act I Scene 2: Second Act of Love
Act I Scene 2: First Allegorical Flower of Reason
Act I Scene 2: First Look of Loneliness
Act I Scene 3: First Time Shift - First Human Lie
Act I Scene 3: First Whisper of Change (a)
Act I Scene 3: Second Ceremony - First Exchange
Act I Scene 3: First Song of Failure
Act I Scene 3: Second Immortal Dance
Act I Scene 3: First Hysterical Aria (a)
Act I Scene 3: Second Statement of Reason
Act I Scene 3: First Hysterical Aria (b)
Act I Scene 3: First Magic Formula
Act I Scene 3: First Hysterical Aria (c)
Act I Scene 3: First Shout of Gratitude
quarter note = c.40
5 bars after [4]
1 bar after [10]
6 bars before [14]
[19]
[21]
[31]
[37]
[39]


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