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Birtwistle, Harrison
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Birtwistle, Harrison

(Born; Accrington, 15 July 1934). English composer. He studied at the Royal Manchester College of Music (1952-5), where Davies and Goehr were fellow students, interesting themselves in contemporary and medieval music. He then worked as a clarinettist and schoolteacher for brief periods; in 1975 he was appointed music director at the National Theatre. His works suggest comparison with Stravinsky in their ritual form and style, and sometimes with Varèse in the violence of their imagery (as in the opera Punch and Judy, 1968, a savage enactment of pre-social behaviour). In the 1970s, however, he began to work musical blocks into long, gradual processes of change (The Triumph of Time for orchestra,1972), then to develop networks of interconnected pulsings beneath such processes (Silbury Air for small orchestra,1977; ...agm... for voices and orchestral groups, 1979). His biggest work of this period was the opera The Mask of Orpheus (1973-83, performed 1986), a multi-layered treatment of the myth.

Operas: Punch and Judy (1968); The Mask of Orpheus (1986); Yan Tan Tethera (1986)

Other dramatic works: Down by the Greenwood Side (music-theatre, 1969); Bow Down (music-theatre, 1977); incidental music

Orchestral music: Chorales (1963); Tragoedia (1965); Nomos (1968); Verses for Ensembles (1969); An Imaginary Landscape (1971); The Triumph of Time (1972); Grimethorpe Aria, brass band (1973); Melencolia I, cl, harp, str (1976); Silbury Air (1977); Carmen arcadiae mechanicae perpetuum (1977); Still Movement (1984); Secret Theatre (1984); Earth Dances (1986); Endless Parade, tpt, orch (1987)

Vocal music: Monody for Corpus Christi, S, fl, hn, vn (1959); Entr'actes and Sappho Fragments, S, 6 insts (1964); Ring a Dumb Carillon, S, cl, perc (1965); Cantata, S, 6 insts (1969); Nenia: the Death of Orpheus, S, 5 insts (1970); Meridian, Mez,'s chorus, 13 insts (1971); The Fields of Sorrow, 2S, chorus, 16 insts (1972); La plage, S, 5 insts (1972); ...agm..., chorus, small orch (1979); On the Sheer Threshold of the Night, 16 vv (1980)

Other works: Refrains and Choruses, wind qnt (1957); Précis, pf (1960); Verses, cl, pf (1965); Chronometer, tape (1972); For O, For O, the Hobby-horse is Forgot, 6 perc (1976); Cl Qnt; (1980); Pulse Sampler, ob, claves (1981)

(c)Groves Dictionaries, MacMillan Publishers Limited, UK

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