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Biography

  • Born

    15 July 1934 (age 84)

  • Born In

    Accrington, Lancashire, England, United Kingdom

Harrison Birtwistle is one of England's foremost living composers.

Born Accrington, 1934, he studied Clarinet and Composition at the Royal Manchester College of Music from 1953 where, along with fellow students Peter Maxwell Davies, Alexander Goehr, John Ogdon and Elgar Howarth, he formed the New Music Manchester group which was dedicated to performing and contemporary compositions.

While using mostly conventional instrumental resources, Birtwistle has radically altered the fundamentals of compositional practice, preferring concepts such of memory (with inherent mistakes) over repetition, and gravity for chordal roots and inversions. As such his work frequently divides opinion and, while highly regarded among composers and musicologists, is often derided by both musicians and public alike.

He gained extreme notoriety with Panic, a work commissioned by John Drummond (the outgoing controller of Radio 3) which was performed at the Last Night of the Proms in 1995, and had performances of his opera Gawain heckled by a group of anti-modernist composers at the Royal Opera in 1994.

Among his best know works are his operas, Punch and Judy (1967), The Mask of Orpheus (1984), Gawain (1990), The 2nd Mrs Kong (1994) and The Last Supper (2000).

Birtwistle was knighted in 1988 and received a Companion of Honour in 2001. He was Henry Purcell Professor of Composition at King's College London from 1994 to 2001.

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