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Sir Harrison Birtwistle: Linoi

  • for clarinet in A and piano
  • Duration: 10’
  • Composer: Sir Harrison Birtwistle

Work introduction

In legend, Linos, the inventor of melody, was killed by a jealous Apollo. Songs of mourning (linoi) were sung in his memory.

In Birtwistle’s Linoi a melodic line unfolds from a single note and slowly climbs through an octave. A second melody begins, this time crossing two octaves. When the third melody reaches a point three octaves from its start, the sustained line is shattered by an episode of extreme violence (perhaps recalling the savagery of Apollo’s attack). A reeling melodic descent to Hades follows, as Linos’ life drains from him. The closing section spans the four octaves that are made possible by Birtwistle’s use of Mozart’s extended clarinet; in a way the piece is about the extension down of a high instrument.

The plucked piano represents the lyre (at this time Birtwistle was looking for an instrument to represent it in his Orpheus opera) and at the violent climax it turns, as it might in Bosch, into an instrument of death.

Composed in 1968 in Alan Hacker’s kitchen in Battersea, Linoi was first performed in London, Purcell Room by Alan Hacker (clarinet) and Catherine Edwards (piano) on 11th October 1968.


Programme note from the Composers Ensemble Concert on 18th September 1992


World première

Purcell Room, London (GB)
Main soloists:
Alan Hacker, clar; Stephen Pruslin, pno

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