Sad to hear of the passing of Harrison Birtwistle this evening, the composer has died, aged 87. He was, as someone else said, “that surprising thing, a deeply English composer who was also internationally renowned as a great modernist”. Whenever you accidntally heard something of his, it immediately stopped you, what’s this? Who’s this? I don’tthink I ever heard anything of Harrison Birtwistle’s that didn;t instantly demind all of my attention, that didn’t have me stop whatever i was doing. his music was constanrly challenging, some might argue difficult, not me though, painterly yes, thrilling, demanding, never difficult though, never closed, always inviting you in. Sad to hear of the passing of Sir Harrison Birtwistle today
“His modernism was of a very particular kind, rooted in the primordial formal elements of music and ritualised theatrical gesture…” read far more than I can tell you via Ivan Hewett piece in the Guardian
Here’s Silbury Air, for chamber orchestra (1977) Played by The London Sinfonietta, parked here on these pages by way of celebration and a mark of our respect
And here’s some more, another brilliant piece of music, it has always been a case of looking for Stravinsky first and then looking and hoping for Harrison Birtwistle and then maybe John Adams when the Prom season dates come out (in the same manner the Football season fixtures do)
“Chronologically, Earth Dances occupies the same position at the end of the twentieth that the Rite of Spring takes at the beginning of it, and its similarities with Stravinsky’s work do not finish there.
Its title is part of a geological metaphor that is also found in the piece’s structure: Birtwistle has divided the orchestra into six ‘strata’, whose changing relationships reflect those of the earth’s geological layers. This stratification is one of Birtwistle’s major contributions to contemporary classical music”.
The Daily Mail once described his 15 minute piece called Panic (1995) as “a horrible cacophony” while the Daily Express said that it was “unmitigated rubbish”, we kind of like that, anything that upsets the Daily Mail is fine in our books but really to not instantly be gripped by this fine fine piece says far more about the newspaper than the wonderful piece. Thank you Harrison Birtwhistle for both upsetting the Daily Mail and for composing some life changing music, classical music that wasn’t marooned in the stuffy unwelcoming world, music that told us we could go along to enjoy in the same way we’d go to a Cardiacs gig or This Heat gig or a Throbbing Gristle gig, classical music that meant something right here in the here and now. Thank you Harrison Birtwhistle, may you rest in peace.
“Panic was composed in response to John Drummond’s request for a work to be performed at the 1995 Last Night of the Proms and my own desire to write a work as a showcase for the saxophonist John Harle. I have called the work a dithyramb, in Classical Greece a choric song in honour of Dionysus, whose wild exuberance here runs riot. The soloist, as chorus leader, is identified with the mythic god Pan, literally “spreading ruin and scattering ban” as in the quotation from Elizabeth Barrett Browning with which I preface this score. The title Panic refers to the feelings of ecstasy and terror experienced by animals in the night at the sound of Pan’s music. The chaos wreaked by Pan is exemplified by the conflict between the orchestra and the alto saxophone soloist together with the drum kit. At times the two odd-men-out rebel and branch out, adopting tempos independent of the orchestra”.