Sir Harrison Birtwistle,(born 15 July 1934) is a British composer.
Harrison Birtwistle was born in Accrington, a mill town in Lancashire around 20 miles north of Manchester. Regarding his name, Birtwistle has stated that 'in some reference books my name is down as Harrison Paul, which it isn't, and never has been. I don't have a second name.' His interest in music was encouraged by his mother, who bought him a clarinet when he was seven, and arranged for him to have lessons with the local bandmaster. He became proficient enough to play in the local military-style band, and also played in the orchestra that accompanied Gilbert and Sullivan productions and the local choral society's performances of Messiah. Birtwistle composed from around this time, later describing his early pieces as "sub Vaughan Williams".
In 1952 he entered the Royal Manchester College of Music in Manchester on a clarinet scholarship. While there he came in contact with contemporaries including Peter Maxwell Davies, Alexander Goehr, John Ogdon and Elgar Howarth. He then completed two years of National Service in the Royal Artillery (Plymouth) Band, based in Oswestry. He served as Director of Music at Cranborne Chase School from 1962 until 1965, before continuing his studies at Princeton University on a Harkness Fellowship, where he completed the opera Punch and Judy. This work, together with Verses for Ensembles and The Triumph of Time, led to greater exposure for Birtwistle in the classical music world.
In 1972 he wrote the accompanying music to The Offence, starring Sean Connery, his only film score.
In 1975 Birtwistle became musical director of the newly established Royal National Theatre in London, a post he held until 1983. He received a knighthood (1988) and was made a Companion of Honour (2001). From 1994 to 2001 he was Henry Purcell Professor of Composition at King's College London. Birtwistle was the 1987 recipient of the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition.
Though well established in the classical music world, Birtwistle was relatively unknown to the general public until the mid-1990s, when two events increased his profile with the wider audience. In 1994 two anti-modernist musicians, Frederick Stocken and Keith Burstein, calling themselves "The Hecklers", organised a demonstration at the first night of a revival of his opera Gawain at the Royal Opera House, London. The following year, Birtwistle's saxophone concertante work Panic was premiered in the second half of the Last Night of the Proms to an estimated worldwide television audience of 100 million. According to the Daily Telegraph, it met with incomprehension from many viewers.
In 1995 he was awarded the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize. At the 2006 Ivor Novello Awards he criticised pop musicians at the event for performing too loudly and using too many clichés.
Birtwistle has a low media profile, but gives interviews occasionally. In 2019 he was interviewed for Composer of the Week on BBC Radio 3.
Birtwistle's music is not categorised as belonging to any particular school or movement. For a time, he was described as belonging to the Manchester School, a phrase invented as a parallel to the Second Viennese School to refer to Birtwistle, Goehr and Davies. The phrase has since declined in use, since the three composers were united only by their early studies in Manchester, rather than a common musical style. Birtwistle's music is complex, written in a modernistic manner with a clear, distinctive voice.
His early work is sometimes evocative of Igor Stravinsky and Olivier Messiaen, who he has acknowledged as influences, and his technique of juxtaposing blocks of sound is sometimes compared to that of Edgard Varèse. His early pieces made frequent use of ostinati and often had a ritualistic feel. These have been toned down in recent decades as his style has developed.
Even when he is not writing a visual piece involving stage action, Birtwistle's music is frequently theatrical in conception. The music does not follow the logic and rules of classical forms such as sonata form, but is structured more like a drama. Furthermore, different musical instruments can almost be seen to take the part of different characters in the drama. This is especially apparent in a performance of Secret Theatre (1984). For various portions of the piece, a number of the instrumentalists perform in a 'soloist' capacity. For this, they leave their seat in the ensemble and stand separately, to one side of the ensemble, returning to the group when they are no longer given that role.
His sons Adam Birtwistle and Silas Birtwistle are artists.
Main article: List of compositions by Harrison Birtwistle
|United Kingdom||1988 – Present||Knight Bachelor||Kt|
|United Kingdom||2001 – Present||Order of the Companions of Honour||CH|
Harrison Birtwistle was awarded a knighthood in the 1988 Queen's Birthday Honours List. He was awarded the Companionship of Honour (CH) in the 2001 New Years Honours List.
|France||1986 – Present||Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres|||
|England||Royal Manchester College of Music|
|England||1986 – Present||Royal Academy of Music||Fellow, Hon FRAM|
|England||1989 – Present||Royal Northern College of Music||Fellow|
|Location||Date||School||Degree||Gave Commencement Address|
|England||1994||University of Sussex||Doctor of Music (D.Mus)|
|England||1996||City, University of London||Doctor of Music (D.Mus)|
|England||2 December 2008||University of London||Doctor of Music (D.Mus)|
|England||2010||University of Cambridge||Doctor of Music (D.Mus)|
|England||2013||Bath Spa University||Doctorate|
|England||25 June 2014||University of Oxford||Doctor of Music (D.Mus)|
|England||2014||Edge Hill University||Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)|
|England||1975 – 1983||Royal National Theatre||Musical Director|
|England||1994 – Present||Royal Academy of Arts||Honorary Fellow |
|New York||2007 – Present||American Academy of Arts and Letters||Foreign Honorary Member |