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Sir Harrison Birtwistle: Gawain's Journey

  • for orchestra
  • 3 3 3 3 - 4 3 3 1 - timp, perc(4), hp, cimb, euph, str(24 0 9 9 9)
  • Duration: 25’
  • Instrumentation details:
    3(2. and 3. + picc) 3(3. + c.a) 3(1. and 2. + Eb-, 3. + bass cl) 3(3. + cbsn) - 4 3(1. + kltpt, 3. + flghr) 3 euphonium 1 - timp, perc (large set, vib., marimba): 4 player - hp, cimbalom - str(24 0 9 9 9)
  • Composer: Sir Harrison Birtwistle

Work introduction

The 25’ work Gawain’s Journey is derived from Birtwistle’s second largescale opera, Gawain, although the concert work is not simply a concentrated version of the narrative of the stage work. Rather, the extracts chosen and combined to create Gawain’s Journey do not necessarily follow the opera’s chronology, and thus emphasise the inherent structural strength of the music all the more. Nevertheless, the ending of the concert work, which also comprises the very end of the opera, does portray Morgan Le Fay’s realisation that Gawain’s journey has been one of self-discovery: her nephew’s eyes have been opened, metaphorically, to all that is at fault in the court of King Arthur. First performed in Vienna fourteen years ago by Elgar Howarth (who compiled the work and who conducted the opera at Covent Garden) with the English Northern Philharmonia, after a performance of Gawain’s Journey at the 1991 Huddersfield Festival, Paul Griffiths wrote in The Times that In this form the power, the massive weight of the music is irresistable, whilst Gerald Larner wrote in The Guardian that the work is a dramatic concert piece and a bruising but exhilarating experience for the audience. David Fanning, in The Independent, wrote that the work could do for Gawain what Berg’s Three Fragments did for Wozzeck.


The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

World première

Wien (AT)
English Northern Philharmonia
Elgar Howarth

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