Sir Harrison Birtwistle was born in Accrington in the north of England in 1934 and studied clarinet and composition at the Royal Manchester College of Music, making contact with a highly talented group of contemporaries including Peter Maxwell Davies, Alexander Goehr, John Ogdon and Elgar Howarth. In 1965 he sold his clarinets to devote all his efforts to composition, and travelled to Princeton as a Harkness Fellow where he completed the opera Punch and Judy. This work, together with Verses for Ensembles and The Triumph of Time, firmly established Birtwistle as a leading voice in British music.
The decade from 1973 to 1984 was dominated by his monumental lyric tragedy The Mask of [...]
About the Music
The anecdote may be apocryphal but it has a symbolic value: the world premiere of Punch and Judy, Harrison Birtwistle’s
“tragical comedy or comical tragedy”, on 8 June 1968 in Aldeburgh, was
attended by Benjamin Britten. Apparently, at one point, Britten could
not bear it any longer and left his box before the performance ended.
Twenty-one years lie between the births of the two composers – not quite
a generation but enough to make them representatives of two wholly
different worlds. The older composer just could not find access to that
of his younger colleague.
Britten and Birtwistle have one thing
in common: unlike some of their compatriots, both have made it across [...]
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