Harrison Birtwistle

(b. 1934) English composer and clarinettist

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(b Accrington, 1934).

Eng. composer. As clarinettist, entered RMCM 1952, studying comp. with Richard Hall. While still a student was one of Manchester New Music Group (with A. Goehr, P. Maxwell Davies and J. Ogdon), performing avant‐garde works. Leaving RMCM in 1960, spent a year at RAM. From 1962 to 1965 was dir. of mus., Cranborne Chase Sch. In USA 1966–8, first year as visiting fellow, Princeton Univ. Ass. dir. Nat. Th. 1975–83. Prof. of comp., King's Coll., London, 1995–2001. With Maxwell Davies formed Pierrot Players in London for perf. of new chamber mus. involving theatrical elements (named after Pierrot Lunaire). Received commissions for works from many organizations and rapidly moved into forefront of Eng. composers of his generation. His first opera, Punch and Judy, is a compelling study in violence and was followed by The Mask of Orpheus for ENO and Gawain for CG. Music marked by genuine lyrical impulse built on dramatic use of ostinato and repeated thematic fragments. A strong poetic feeling pervades all his work. Knighted 1988. CH 2001. Prin. comps.:

opera and music theatre:

Punch and Judy


Down by the Greenwood Side


The Mask of Orpheus

(1973–5, 1981–4);

Bow Down


Yan Tan Tethera

, tv opera (1983–4);


(1987–90, rev. 1994);

The Second Mrs Kong


The Last Supper


The Io Passion



Pulse Field (Frames, Pulses and Interruptions)


incidental music:



The Oresteia





3 Movements with Fanfares




An Imaginary Landscape


The Triumph of Time


Melencolia I


Still Movement

, 13 solo str. (1984);

Earth Dances


Endless Parade

, tpt., vib., str. (1986–7);

Machaut à ma manière


Ritual Fragment


Gawain's Journey



, pf., orch. (1992);

The Cry of Anubis

, tuba, orch. (1994);

Night's Blackbird



(without v.): Refrains and Choruses, wind quintet (1957);

The World is Discovered

, chamber ens. (1960);


, wind quintet, hp., str. qt. (1965);

Chorale from a Toy Shop

, 1st vers. for fl, ob. or cl., cl. or ca., hn. or tb., bn. or tuba (1967), 2nd vers. for 2 tpt., hn., tb., tuba (1978);

Three Lessons in a Frame

, pf., fl., cl., vn., vc., perc. (1967); Verses for Ensembles, wind quintet, brass, perc. (1968–9);

Some Petals from my Twickenham Herbarium

, chamber ens. (1969);


, ens. (1969–70, rev. 1980);

Dinah and Nick's Love Song

, 3 sop. sax., hp., or 3 cor. ang., hp. (1970);

Tombeau, in mem. Igor Stravinsky

, fl., cl., hp., str. qt. (1971);

Silbury Air

, chamber ens. (1977);

Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum

, chamber ens. (1977);

For O, For O, the Hobby Horse is Forgot

, 6 perc. players (1976);

Pulse Sampler

, ob., claves (1981);

Secret Theatre

, fl., ob., cl., bn., tpt., hn., tb., perc., pf., str. qt. (1984);

Slow Frieze

, pf., ens. (1996);

Cantus Iambeus

, 13 players (2005).


(with vv.): Monody for Corpus Christi (1959);

Entr'actes and Sappho Fragments

, sop., ens. (1964);


Subjects: Music.

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