Sir Harrison Birtwistle

»Both tender and aggressive« – this characterisation given by Sir Harrison Birtwistle (1934-2022) to one of his pieces can be extended to his music as a whole. In his works we find long-spun melodies full of lyrical emphasis, but also angry conglomerations and dissonant eruptions. This inner diversity and contrariness is carried by a special sense of musical narrative. This talent has led Birtwistle almost inevitably to musical theatre, but it also shapes his textless compositions.

Sir Harrison Birtwistle was born on 15 July 1934 in Accrington, a small town in the North of England. He studied clarinet and composition in Manchester from 1952 onwards, was deeply involved with the works of new music and received a variety of stimuli from his contact with fellow students such as the composers Peter Maxwell Davies and Alexander Goehr or the trumpeter Elgar Howarth. Composing took a back seat to a career as a clarinettist for some time, until Birtwistle achieved a creative breakthrough in 1965 with the composition ›Tragoedia‹ for chamber ensemble. In ›Tragoedia‹, Birtwistle refers to the origins of tragedy in Dionysian rites. This fascination with archaic rites and with material from antiquity became a constant in his oeuvre. From 1975 to 1982 Birtwistle served as music director at the National Theatre in London, writing incidental music for a variety of plays and working intensively with director Peter Hall. In 1986, two central works were premiered, the opera ›The Mask of Orpheus‹ and the orchestral work ›Earth Dances‹, in which Birtwistle unleashes enormous sonic eruptions and rhythmic forces. Since then, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, who has remained prolific to this day, has been one of the most respected composers of our time.