"Birtwistle is a towering figure in British music. His language, though complex and modernistic, is distinctive and exhilarating"
Anthony Tommasini, New York Times
"A great original ... one of the most gifted composers of his generation"
Harrison Birtwistle was born in Accrington in 1934 and studied clarinet and composition at the Royal Manchester College of Music. In 1960 he sold his clarinets to devote his efforts to composition, and travelled to Princeton as a Harkness Fellow where he completed the opera Punch and Judy. This work, together with Verses for Ensembles and The Triumph of Time, firmly established Birtwistle as a leading voice in British music.
The decade from 1973 to 1984 was dominated by his monumental lyric tragedy The Mask of Orpheus, and by the series of remarkable ensemble scores: Secret Theatre, Silbury Air, Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum and agm.
Important large-scale compositions are the operas The Minotaur, Gawain, The Second Mrs Kong and The Last Supper, the concertos Panic, Antiphonies and Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, as well as the orchestral scores Earth Dances, Exody and The Shadow of Night. Other major works include Theseus Game for large ensemble and two conductors, Neruda Madrigales for chorus and instruments, Angel Fighter and In Broken Images. Smaller-scale pieces include Pulse Shadows, the cycle of piano works Harrison’s Clocks, Orpheus Elegies for oboe, harp and countertenor, stage works The Corridor, The Io Passion, Tree of Strings for string quartet, The Moth Requiem for female voices and instruments and Songs from the Same Earth for tenor and piano.
The music of Birtwistle has attracted international conductors including Stefan Asbury, David Atherton, Pierre Boulez, Daniel Barenboim, Christoph von Dohnányi, Peter Eötvös, Elgar Howarth, Daniel Harding, Vladimir Jurowski, Oliver Knussen, Ingo Metzmacher, Sir Antonio Pappano, Sir Simon Rattle, David Robertson, Franz Welser-Möst and Ryan Wigglesworth. He has received commissions from leading performing organizations, and his music has been featured in major festivals and concert series in Europe, the USA and Japan. Birtwistle has received many honours including the 1986 Grawemeyer Award, the Chévalier des Arts et des Lettres (1986), a British knighthood (1988), the Siemens Prize (1995) and the Wihuri Sibelius prize for music (2015). He was made Companion of Honour in 2001. Recordings of his music are available on the Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Teldec, Signum, NMC, CPO and ECM labels.
In 2014, Harrison Birtwistle composed Responses: Sweet disorder and the carefully careless, a concerto for piano and orchestra for his 80th birthday year which was co-commissioned by Musica Viva Munich, Casa da Musica Porto, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Symphony. Other recent compositions include The Cure for the Aldeburgh Festival and Royal Opera House, The Silk House Sequences for the Arditti Quartet, Five Lessons in a Frame for London Sinfonietta and Ensemble Musikfabrik, and Deep Time commissioned by the Staatskapelle Berlin and the BBC, which received its world premiere in Berlin and UK premiere at the 2017 Proms by the conductor Daniel Barenboim.
Current composing plans include three songs for soprano and ensemble, a duo for keyboard and percussion for Colin Currie and Nicolas Hodges, the piano duo Keyboard Engine commissioned for Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich, and a major work for symphony orchestra.
Harrison Birtwistle is published by Boosey & Hawkes and Universal Edition.
Please click here for Harrison Birtwistle’s current timeline.
This biography is for information only and should not be reproduced.
Articles about Harrison Birtwistle 2017