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Birtwistle, Sir Harrison (Paul)

Birtwistle, Sir Harrison (Paul)

eminent English composer; b. Accrington, Lancashire, July 15, 1934. He was a student of Frederick Thurston (clarinet) and Richard Hall (composition) at the Royal Manchester Coll. of Music (1952–60), and then of Reginald Kell (clarinet) at the Royal Academy of Music in London (1960–61). After serving as director of music at the Cranbourne Chase School in Dorset (1962–65), he was a visiting prof. at Princeton Univ. (1966). Returning to England, he co-founded with Peter Maxwell Davies the Pierrot Players in 1967, a contemporary music en-semble, with which he remained active until 1970. He was a visiting prof. of music at Swarthmore Coll. (1973–74) and the State Univ. of N.Y. at Buffalo (1975). Returning once more to England, he was active as music director at the National Theater in London from 1975. In 1987 he received the Grawemeyer Award of the Univ. of Louisville for his opera The Mask of Orpheus. He was knighted in 1988. In 1995 he was awarded the Siemens Prize. In his compositions, Birtwistle departed completely from the folkloric trends popular in modern English music and adopted an abstract idiom, one marked by an expert handling of various elements in a thoroughly contemporary idiom. His operas constitute a significant contribution to the British stage.


DRAMATIC: Punch and Judy, tragical comedy or comical tragedy (1966-67; Aldeburgh, June 8, 1968; rev. version, London, March 3, 1970); Down by the Greenwood Side, dramatic pastorale (1968-69; Brighton, May 8, 1969); The Mask of Orpheus, opera (1973-75; 1981-84; London, May 21, 1986); Pulse Field: Frames, Pulses, and Interruptions, ballet (Snape, June 25, 1977); Bow Down, music theater (London, July 4, 1977); Yan, Tan, Tethera, opera (1983-84; London, Aug. 7, 1986); Gawain, opera (1990-91; London, May 30, 1991); The Second Mrs. Kong, opera (1993-94; Glyndebourne, Oct. 21, 1994); The Last Supper, opera (1999; Berlin, April 18, 2000); incidental music. ORCH.: Chorales (1960-63; London, Feb. 14, 1967); 3 Movements with Fanfares (London, July 8, 1964); Nomos for Amplified Flute, Amplified Clarinet, Amplified Horn, Amplified Bassoon, and Orch. (1967-68; London, Aug. 23, 1968); An Imaginary Landscape (London, June 2, 1971); The Triumph of Time (1971-72; London, June 1, 1972); Grimethorpe Aria for Brass Band (Harrogate, Aug. 15, 1973); Melencolia I for Clarinet, Harp, and 2 String Orchs. (Glasgow, Sept. 18, 1976); Earth Dances (1985-86; London, March 14, 1986); Endless Parade for Trumpet, Vibraphone, and Strings (1986-87; Zürich, May 1, 1987); Machaut à ma Manière (1988); Salford Toccata for Brass Band (Salford, April 12, 1989); Gawain’s Journey (Vienna, Oct. 21, 1991); Antiphonies for Piano and Orch. (1992; Paris, May 5, 1993); The Cry of Anubis for Tuba and Orch. (1994; London, Jan. 16, 1995); Panic for Alto Saxophone, Drummer, and Wind, Brass, and Percussion Orch. (London, Sept. 16, 1995). CHAMBER: Refrains and Choruses for Wind Quintet (1957; Cheltenham, June 11, 1959); 3 Sonatas for 9 Instruments (Aldeburgh, June 17, 1960); The World Is Discovered for 12 Instruments (London, March 5, 1961); Entr’actes for Flute, Viola, and Harp (1962; used in Entr’actes and Sappho Fragments, 1964); Tragoedia for 10 Instruments (Devon, Aug. 20, 1965); Verses for Clarinet and Piano (London, Oct. 1965); Chorale from a Toy Shop for Flute, Oboe or Clarinet, Clarinet or English Horn, Horn or Trombone, and Bassoon or Tuba (1967; Lewes, March 28, 1979; also for 2 Trumpets, Horn, Trombone, and Tuba, London, May 19, 1978); 3 Lessons in a Frame for Piano, Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Cello, and Percussion (Cheltenham, July 17, 1967); Linoi for Clarinet and Piano (London, Oct. 11, 1968; 2nd version for Clarinet, Piano, Dancer, and Tape, London, April 22, 1969; 3rd version for Clarinet, Piano, and Cello, Sheffield, Nov. 12, 1973); 4 Interludes for a Tragedy for Clarinet and Tape (without tape, London, Oct. 18, 1968; with tape, London, Feb. 10, 1969); Verses for Ensembles (1968-69; London, Feb. 12, 1969); Some Petals from my Twickenham Herbarium for Piccolo, Clarinet, Viola, Cello, Piano, and Bells (London, April 22, 1969); Medusa for Chamber Ensemble and Tape (Sheffield, Oct. 22, 1969; rev. version, London, March 3, 1970); 8 Lessons for Keyboards (London, Jan. 13, 1970); Signals for Clarinet and Electronics (Edinburgh, Aug. 25, 1970); Dinah and Nick’s Love Song for 3 Melody Instruments and Harp (1970; Sheffield, Oct. 26, 1972); Tombeau in memoriam Igor Stravinsky for Flute, Clarinet, Harp, and String Quartet (1971; London, June 17, 1972); Chanson de Geste for Amplified Sustaining Instrument and Tape (Perugia, July 1973); For O, for O the Hobby Horse Is Forgot for 6 Percussionists (1976; Tokyo, Feb. 10, 1978); Silbury Air for 15 Instruments (London, March 9, 1977); Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum for 14 Instruments (1977; London, Jan. 24, 1978); Clarinet Quintet (1980; Huddersfield, Nov. 21, 1981); Pulse Sampler for Oboe and Claves (Huddersfield, Nov. 20, 1981); Duets for Storab for 2 Flutes (1983; London, March 25, 1984); Secret Theatre for 14 Instruments (London, Oct. 18, 1984); Fanfare for Will for 3 Trumpets, 4 Horns, 3 Trombones, and Tuba (London, July 10, 1987); Ritual Fragment for 14 Instruments (London, May 6, 1990); An Interrupted Endless Melody for Oboe and Piano (1991); 9 Movements for String Quartet (1991-96; first complete perf., London, April 29, 1996); 5 Distances for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, and Horn (1992; London, May 7, 1993); Hoquetus Petrus for 2 Flutes and Piccolo Trumpet (Chicago, March 30, 1995); Piece for Piano and 12 Winds (London, April 26, 1996). VOCAL: Monody for Corpus Christi for Soprano, Flute, Horn, and Violin (1959; London, April 5, 1960); Narration: A Description of the Passing of a Year for Chorus (1963; London, Feb. 14, 1964); Entr’actes and Sappho Fragments for Soprano and 6 Instruments (Cheltenham, July 11, 1964); Ring a Dumb Carillon for Soprano Playing Suspended Cymbals, Clarinet, and Percussion (1964-65; London, March 19, 1965); Carmen Paschale, motet for Chorus and Organ ad libitum (Aldeburgh, June 17, 1965); The Visions of Francesco Petrarca for Baritone, Mime Ensemble, Chamber Ensemble, and School Orch. (1965-66; York, June 15, 1966); Monodrama for Soprano, Speaker, and Chamber Ensemble (London, May 30, 1967); Cantata for Soprano and Chamber Ensemble (London, June 12, 1969); Nenia: The Death of Orpheus for Soprano, 3 Bass Clarinets, Piano, and Crotales (London, Nov. 20, 1970); Meridian for Mezzo-soprano, 2 3-part Soprano Choruses, and Instruments (1970-71; London, Feb. 26, 1971); Prologue for Tenor and 7 Instruments (London, April 18, 1971); The Fields of Sorrow for 2 Sopranos, Chorus, and 16 Instruments (Dartington, Aug. 7, 1971; rev. 1972); Epilogue for Baritone, Horn, 4 Trombones, and 6 Tam-tams (London, April 23, 1972); La Plage: 8 Arias of Remembrance for Soprano, 3 Clarinets, Piano, and Marimba (Sheffield, Oct. 26, 1972); ...agm... for 16 Voices and 3 Instrumental Groups (1978-79; Paris, April 9, 1979); Chorale Fragments from...agm... for 16 Voices (London, April 5, 1979); On the Sheer Threshold of the Night, madrigal for 4 Solo Voices and Chorus (Hessian Radio, Frankfurt am Main, May 10, 1980); Songs by Myself for Soprano and 7 Instruments (London, Oct. 18, 1984); Words Overheard for Soprano and Chamber Orch. (Glasgow, Nov. 17, 1985); 4 Songs of Autumn for Soprano and String Quartet (1987; London, Jan. 24, 1988); An die Musik for Soprano and 10 Instruments (London, May 4, 1988); White and Light for Soprano and 5 Instruments (Brighton, May 13, 1989); 9 Settings of Celan for Soprano, 2 Clarinets, Viola, Cello, and Double Bass (1989-96; first complete perf., Witten, April 28, 1996); 4 Poems by Jaan Kaplinski for Soprano and 13 Instruments (Aldeburgh, June 19, 1991); Tenebrae for Soprano and 5 Instruments (London, Sept. 18, 1992); Night for Soprano, 2 Choruses, Cello, and Double Bass (London, Sept. 18, 1992). Tape: Chronometer (1971-72; London, April 24, 1972). OTHER: Pieces for young people; electronic music; arrangements.


M. Hall, H. B. (London, 1984).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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