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
Birtwistle: Chamber Music, Songs / Fellner, Brendel, Batiashivilli, Freston
Release Date: 04/29/2014   Label: Ecm  
Catalog: 002043602   Number of Discs: 1
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Browse 1-25 of 48 Available Recordings
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  • 1.
    Birtwistle: Gawain / Howarth, Howells, Le Roux, Tomlinson, Angel
    Label: Nmc   Catalog: 200 Release Date: 08/12/2014   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Harrison Birtwistle
    Performer:  François Le Roux,  Anne Howells,  John Tomlinson,  Marie Angel  ... 
    Conductor:  Elgar Howarth
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra,  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus
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  • 2.
    Birtwistle: Chamber Music, Songs / Fellner, Brendel, Batiashivilli, Freston
    Label: Ecm   Catalog: 002043602 Release Date: 04/29/2014   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Harrison Birtwistle
    Performer:  Lisa Batiashvili,  Till Fellner,  Adrian Brendel,  Roderick Williams  ... 
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  • 3.
    New Music Collections, Vol. 3: Orchestral
    Label: Nmc   Catalog: 206 Release Date: 04/29/2014   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Richard Causton,  Dominic Muldowney,  Nicholas Maw,  Richard Ayres  ... 
    Performer:  Roy Carter,  Wim Timmermans,  Mstislav Rostropovich,  Robin Michael
    Conductor:  Nicholas Collon,  Michael Tilson Thomas,  Sir Neville Marriner,  Roland Kluttig  ... 
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  • 4.
    New Music Collections: Choral
    Label: Nmc   Catalog: 204 Release Date: 04/29/2014   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Julian Anderson,  Giles Swayne,  Robert Saxton,  Michael Finnissy  ... 
    Performer:  Howard Skempton,  Michael Finnissy
    Conductor:  Simon Halsey,  John Poole,  James Weeks,  Sir David Willcocks  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ex Cathedra (Early Music Ens.),  Birmingham Contemporary Music Group
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  • 5.
    New Music Collections: Electronic
    Label: Nmc   Catalog: 205 Release Date: 04/29/2014   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Roger Smalley,  Richard Barrett,  anna Meredith,  Rajmil Fischmann  ... 
    Performer:  Roger Smalley,  Daryl Buckley,  Richard Barrett,  Sound Intermedia  ... 
    Conductor:  Richard Bernas,  Christia Christian Eggen,  Guy Protheroe
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cikada Ensemble,  Elision Ensemble,  Spectrum  ... 
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  • 6.
    Harrison Birtwistle: The Moth Requiem
    Label: Signum U.k.   Catalog: 368 Release Date: 02/25/2014   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Harrison Birtwistle
    Performer:  Roderick Williams,  Philippa Davies,  Emma [Soprano Vocal] Tring,  Stephen Jeffes  ... 
    Conductor:  David Hill,  Nicholas Kok
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Nash Ensemble
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  • 7.
    Teldec - 50-CD Collection
    Label: Teldec   Catalog: 643851 Release Date: 11/19/2013   Number of Discs: 50
    Composer:  Béla Bartók,  Ludwig van Beethoven,  Antonín Dvorák,  Franz Joseph Haydn  ... 
    Performer:  András Schiff,  Josef Protschka,  Barbara Bonney,  Edita Gruberova  ... 
    Conductor:  Iván Fischer,  Nikolaus Harnoncourt,  Carlo Rizzi,  Reinbert De Leeuw  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Budapest Festival Orchestra,  Chamber Orchestra of Europe,  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra  ... 
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  • 8.
    Harrison Birtwistle: Orpheus Elegies
    Label: Oboe Classics   Catalog: 2020 Release Date: 10/09/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Harrison Birtwistle,  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Helen Tunstall,  Melinda Maxwell,  Ben Fulbrook,  William Stafford  ... 
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  • 9.
    Birtwistle: The Triumph Of Time / Boulez, Davis, Bbc Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Modern Orchestra
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 001708902 Release Date: 07/31/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Harrison Birtwistle
    Performer:  John Harle
    Conductor:  Pierre Boulez,  Sir Andrew Davis
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra,  Ensemble Modern Orchestra
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  • 10.
    Birtwistle: Complete String Quartets / Arditti Quartet
    Label: Aeon   Catalog: 1217 Release Date: 05/08/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Harrison Birtwistle
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arditti String Quartet
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  • 11.
    Birtwistle: Antiphonies & Harrison’s Clocks; Wood, Harrison: Piano Concertos / MacGregor
    Label: Warner Classics   Catalog: 671990 Release Date: 09/27/2011   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Harrison Birtwistle,  Hugh Wood,  Lou Harrison
    Performer:  Joanna MacGregor
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  • 12.
    Birtwistle: Night's Black Bird; The Shadow Of Night; The Cry Of Anubis / Wigglesworth, Halle Orchestra
    Label: Nmc   Catalog: 156 Release Date: 09/27/2011   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Harrison Birtwistle
    Performer:  Owen Slade
    Conductor:  Ryan Wigglesworth
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hallé Choir and Orchestra
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  • 13.
    Icon - Melos Ensemble
    Label: Warner Classics   Catalog: 18414 Release Date: 03/22/2011   Number of Discs: 11
    Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,  Franz Schubert,  Ludwig van Beethoven,  Felix Mendelssohn  ... 
    Performer:  Gervase de Peyer,  Lamar Crowson,  Cecil Aronowitz,  Manoug Parikian  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Melos Ensemble London Members,  Melos Ensemble London
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  • 14.
    Birtwistle: The Minotaur / Tomlinson, Reuter, Pappano [Blu-ray]
    Label: Opus Arte   Catalog: 7052 Release Date: 02/23/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Harrison Birtwistle
    Performer:  Amanda Echalaz,  Christine Rice,  Andrew Watts,  John Tomlinson  ... 
    Conductor:  Antonio Pappano
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
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  • 15.
    Earle Brown Contemporary Sound Series, Vol. 2
    Label: Wergo   Catalog: 6931 Release Date: 12/08/2009   Number of Discs: 3
    Composer:  Peter Maxwell Davies,  Harrison Birtwistle,  David Bedford,  Richard Orton  ... 
    Performer:  Alan Hacker,  Barry Quinn,  Mary [Soprano Vocal] Thomas,  Jane Manning  ... 
    Conductor:  Peter Maxwell Davies,  Bruno Maderna,  Luciano Berio
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pierrot Players
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  • 16.
    Trumpet Renaissance - Birtwistle, Jost, Roger, Artunian / Schartz
    Label: Chandos   Catalog: 10562 Release Date: 11/17/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Kurt Roger,  Christian Jost,  Harrison Birtwistle,  Alexander Arutiunian
    Performer:  Philippe Schartz
    Conductor:  Jac Van Steen
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC National Orchestra of Wales
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  • 17.
    A/Rythmia
    Label: Nonesuch   Catalog: 467708 Release Date: 09/15/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Benedict Mason,  Michael Gordon,  György Ligeti,  David Wong  ... 
    Performer:  Alan Pierson,  Payton MacDonald
    Conductor:  Alan Pierson
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Alarm Will Sound
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  • 18.
    The NMC Songbook
    Label: Nmc   Catalog: 150 Release Date: 03/31/2009   Number of Discs: 4
    Composer:  Roderick Williams,  Rupert Bawden,  Bayan Northcott,  Emily Howard  ... 
    Performer:  Iain Burnside,  Roderick Williams,  Huw Watkins,  Jean Rigby  ... 
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  • 19.
    20th-century Masterpieces - 100 Years Of Classical Music
    Label: Warner Classics   Catalog: 17500 Release Date: 11/24/2008   Number of Discs: 16
    Composer:  Sergei Rachmaninov,  Claude Debussy,  Frederick Delius,  Gustav Mahler  ... 
    Performer:  Leif Ove Andsnes,  Christa Ludwig,  Martha Argerich,  Sarah Chang  ... 
    Conductor:  Antonio Pappano,  Carlo Maria Giulini,  Sir Thomas Beecham,  Otto Klemperer  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Melos Ensemble London
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  • 20.
    Birtwistle: The Minotaur / Tomlinson, Reuter, Pappano
    Label: Opus Arte   Catalog: 1000 Release Date: 11/18/2008   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Harrison Birtwistle
    Performer:  John Tomlinson,  Christine Rice,  Johan Reuter,  Amanda Echalaz  ... 
    Conductor:  Antonio Pappano
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
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  • 21.
    Ancora - Birtwistle: Carmen Arcadiae, Secret Theatre, Silbury Air
    Label: Nmc   Catalog: 148 Release Date: 10/28/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Harrison Birtwistle
    Conductor:  Elgar Howarth
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Sinfonietta
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  • 22.
    Birtwistle: Nenia, Fields Of Sorrow / Atherton, Manning, Hacker
    Label: Lyrita   Catalog: 306 Release Date: 09/09/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Harrison Birtwistle
    Performer:  Jane Manning
    Conductor:  Alan Hacker,  David Atherton
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Matrix Ensemble,  London Sinfonietta,  London Sinfonietta Chorus
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  • 23.
    Edition Klavier-festival Ruhr - Mozart, Variationen & Neue Klaviermusik
    Label: Cavi Music   Catalog: 8553067 Release Date: 04/08/2008   Number of Discs: 3
    Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,  Krzysztof Meyer,  John Harbison,  John Dowland  ... 
    Performer:  Various,  Peter Serkin,  Lars Vogt,  Robert Levin  ... 
    On sale! $44.98
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  • 24.
    Hodie Gloriosa
    Label: Brass Classics   Catalog: 13007 Release Date: 03/01/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Edward Chance,  Cecilia McDowall,  Michael Berkeley,  Harrison Birtwistle  ... 
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  • 25.
    Trumpet Concertos - Hĺkan Hardenberger / Howarth, Bbc Phil
    Label: Philips   Catalog: 432075 Release Date: 09/11/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Harrison Birtwistle,  Peter Maxwell Davies,  Michael Blake Watkins
    Performer:  Hĺkan Hardenberger
    Conductor:  Elgar Howarth
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
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