Obituary: Composer Harrison Birtwistle, 87

Posted on: April 19, 2022

“Harrison Birtwistle, one of the UK’s foremost composers, has died aged 87,” writes Imoggen Tilden in Monday’s (4/18) Guardian (U.K.). “Birtwistle’s compositions of uncompromising modernism—ranging from large-scale grand opera to intimate solo piano pieces—have dominated British music for more than five decades…. He studied in Manchester at the Royal Northern College of Music, where, along with his fellow students Alexander Goehr and Peter Maxwell Davies, he was part of an explosion of musical creativity, and belonged to a group once labelled ‘the Manchester School.’ His first chamber opera, Punch and Judy, premiered at the Aldeburgh festival in 1968, and legend has it that the violence of its story and music outraged much of its audience, including festival founder Benjamin Britten.… In 1975, Birtwistle became musical director of the newly established Royal National Theatre in London, where his duties included teaching Simon Callow, playing Mozart in the premiere of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, to play the piano convincingly. Birtwistle received a knighthood in 1988 and was made a Companion of Honour in 2001…. Birtwistle’s dissonant and jagged music … packs a huge emotional punch and is exhilarating and intricate…. Many conductors championed his music, including Pierre Boulez, Simon Rattle, Daniel Barenboim and Antonio Pappano.”