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GCSE/ A-Level

• Welcome!
• The Philharmonia Orchestra
• The Philharmonia Orchestra Community & Education
• Introduction
• What is Contemporary Music?
• Birtwistle’s Style
• Discussion
• Listening Exercises
• How to compose like Birtwistle
• The Concert
• A Player’s View
• Further Information
- Birtwistle Games: CD Index
- Further Reading
- Harrison Birtwistle: A Timeline of Compositions
- The musical team & contact details

Welcome to the Birtwistle Games resource pack!

This pack is aimed at preparing for the Philharmonia concert that

comprises two works by Harrison Birtwistle. By working through the
pack, students will learn about Birtwistle and modernism before
undertaking some listening exercises taken from the CD Birtwistle
Games, which accompanies the pack. These then lead to a led-group
discussion and to a practical composition/improvisation exercise
focussing on producing a Birtwistle-inspired piece.

The pack is intended for GCSE and A-level use, and will help to
underpin any work on Twentieth-Century music that these courses
contain by examining some of the reasons for this style of art music
and encouraging students to evaluate its effectiveness. The pack
contains material that can be used for the three areas of the national
curriculum: performance, composition and listening/evaluation.

John Webb: Sept. 04

One of the world's great orchestras, the Philharmonia Orchestra has entered
the new millennium during the most exciting and dynamic phase in its
distinguished history. The Orchestra is now in its eighth season with Principal
Conductor Christoph von Dohnányi, the renowned German maestro who had
formerly been Principal Guest Conductor since 1994. Under his leadership the
Philharmonia Orchestra has consolidated its central position in British musical
life, not only in London, where it is Resident Orchestra at the Royal Festival
Hall, but also in the wider community, through regional residencies.

It is now in its tenth successful season as Resident Orchestra at Bedford Corn

Exchange and its eighth season as Resident Orchestra at Leicester's De
Montfort Hall. The 2004/05 season also sees the Philharmonia Orchestra
enter its fifth year as Orchestra in Partnership at The Anvil, Basingstoke and
its second year of its new relationship with Colston Hall, St George’s and The
Watershed in Bristol. These innovative regional residencies have provided an
ideal opportunity to expand a dynamic educational and community-based
The Philharmonia Orchestra’s
Community & Education Department

We aim to:
• Create and develop an interest in, and enjoyment of music in people of all
ages, abilities and backgrounds
• Contribute to the process of music education for people within and outside
the formal education sector, whatever their abilities and background
• Make the recourse of the Philharmonia Orchestra – its players and
concerts – available and accessible to the widest possible section of the

We do this by:
• Creating a programme of projects and events where priority is given to the
quality of the experience for everyone involved
• Collaborating with artists and organisations, in places and regions specific
to the Philharmonia Orchestra
• Linking our work directly with that of the Philharmonia Orchestra by taking
inspiration from its concerts programme and giving musicians a key role in
planning and implementing projects

As part of our projects, we always aim to have a performance to give the

participants a goal to work towards. The performance is usually the high point
of the project and many participants feel a huge sense of achievement and
pride following their own personal contribution.

Harrison Birtwistle is this year celebrating his seventieth birthday. He is one

of the most accomplished British ‘serious’ composers living today, having
written works that are performed all over the world. These include several
operas, music theatre pieces, orchestral works and chamber pieces.
Although critical reaction to his music has been positive, popular reaction is
mixed: an advert was taken out in The Spectator by a group called ‘The
hecklers’ advertising for an audience to heckle a performance of his opera
Gawain. In 1995 he was commissioned to write a piece for the BBC Last
Night of the Proms, probably one of the most popular events in the classical
music calendar, broadcast on radio and television and attracting an audience
of millions from all over the world. The work, Panic, was attacked by the
popular press, which is perhaps not surprising as one commentator described
it as ‘the ultimate up-yours piece’ (Robert Maycock, the Independent). It is
aggressive, violent, gritty, ferocious and unrelenting; a premeditated snub to
an event which is a beacon of cultural popularity.

Harrison Birtwistle
Photo by Hanya Chlala
This uncompromising quality is typical of Birtwistle; he follows his own
compositional ideas without ‘simplifying’ them for the listener. When asked
how he thought people listened to his music, he replied ‘I should think they
find it horribly difficult. That’s their problem, not mine.’ (Warburton

Such a stance could be viewed as elitist: the composer perhaps seeing

himself as being ‘above’ and better than the average listener, communicating
only with an elite connoisseur. But, this does not ring true. Born in
Accrington, Lancashire, to a farming family, he began playing the clarinet at
seven, taking lessons from the local bandmaster and playing in the local
military band. These were his formative musical experiences, and it wasn’t
until he started studying clarinet at the Royal Manchester College of Music
that he began to show an interest in composition and contemporary music.
He still has his soft Lancastrian accent, despite having not lived there for
many years, and has a down-to-earth, perhaps slightly gruff, plain-speaking,
no-nonsense, manner. He does not come over as an arrogant, pretentious
man, showing off his intellectual superiority by writing obscure and arcane
music: he’s simply writing the best music he can.

Nonetheless, many (most?) would say his music is difficult, and it has been
pointed out that ‘there is an important element of Birtwistle’s music that falls
altogether outside the realm of the communicative and the meant … This is
felt as much by his advocates as by his opponents’ (Cross p196). Here is a
composer who seems to go out of his way to write music that does not
ingratiate itself with the listener, and as a result he has received both acclaim
and vitriol.

This pack attempts to help students come to an understanding of Birtwistle’s

music through listening, discussion and composition, and to form some
judgements about it.
What is Contemporary Music?

Birtwistle’s music, and much other contemporary music, is so thoroughly

different from the music that is heard around us every day, that it is easy to
dismiss it as being intellectual and inexpressive; mathematically constructed
pieces that do not connect with human nature. It sounds dissonant, and
doesn’t contain obvious melodies or traditional harmonies. Often there are no
strong rhythms, or any sense that musical ideas are being repeated or
developed (at least on first hearing). However, this musical tradition (now
more than 100 years old) has involved so many composers, influenced so
many others, and is still being performed, that there must be more to it than
‘squeaky-gate’ and ‘plinky-plonk’.

There are parallels with the fine arts, which have gone through a similar
period of ‘modernist’ turmoil, but are now accepted by the general public.
Picasso’s and Salvador Dali’s works are now commonplace, as are such
initially terrifying visions as Munch’s The Scream. Works by these painters,
which were shocking, can all be brought as posters and postcards in the high
street. Some are very powerful: Picasso’s Guernica, a work depicting the
horror of war, hangs in the United Nations, as a reminder to those countries
who wish to war-monger. It was covered when Colin Powell, Secretary of
State for the United States, addressed the assembly trying to convince them
to pass the resolution allowing the United Nations permission to invade Iraq.

The influence of initially radical artists can be seen in design and advertising;
for instance the London Underground map is influenced by the coloured
straight lines of the artist Mondrian. So what about contemporary music?

Everyone has heard far more contemporary music than they realise.
Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, depicting violent pagan rituals eventually
ending in ritual sacrifice, caused a riot at its first performance. Extracts from it
are now regularly used on television documentaries about war. The piece is
now a much loved (and very exciting!) concert work, but what of ‘harder’
modernist music? Some concert pieces have been used in films, and many
other films exploit modernist features on their soundtrack. The Hungarian
composer Gyorgy Ligeti’s Requiem and Lux Aeterna were used by Stanley
Kubrick in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and David Lynch has used works
by Krystoff Penderecki. These might be considered ‘art house’ films, but
other, more popular films, such as Alien, use modernist music on their
soundtracks. Even the animated cartoon Pingu sometimes uses a dissonant,
modernist music in the background.

Audiences hear this music without complaint during a film. So why does
contemporary music face such resistance in the concert hall?

One of the first forays into modernism was by Arnold Schoenberg (1874-
1951). He decided that the system of musical organisation called tonality
(keys, etc.) had been so compromised by some composers in the 19th century
that it would be better to not use it at all. Instead he proposed avoiding
sounds which would create a sense of key: triads, for instance. Instead, he
concentrated on using dissonant combinations of sounds (eg. sevenths and
seconds). As there was no harmony to combine the various elements
together at any single moment, he was able to, quite freely, create rich,
contrapuntal textures, without worrying about each line fitting with one

This is quite a simple, technical explanation for his innovations. However,

there were also expressive reasons for the change of style. During this
period, Sigmund Freud began to develop psychoanalysis. Through this, a
psychiatrist could delve into the innermost recesses of the human mind, to
discover the basic, animal instincts which make humans tick. What he found
was not pleasant: humans are only slightly removed from their animal
cousins, and basic, animal urges were only thinly covered by a veneer of
civilisation. Violence and sex were basic, and artists began to reflect this
‘dark side’ in their works, no matter how uncomfortable it might be for the
listener. The result was a movement called expressionism: music and
painting which aimed to reflect the true nature of humanity – warts and all.
For instance, one of Schoenberg’s works in this style, Erwartung, concerns a
woman lost in a forest who (it turns out) has killed her lover and is gradually
going mad. The music reflects her state of mind very powerfully.

Over the last century, musical modernism has changed a great deal, and
though some of it is now loved by audiences, there is still a lot of music that
makes them uncomfortable. Perhaps this is the point: modernist music is not
meant to be easy, it is meant to be a challenge, because through overcoming
challenges we learn and grow as human beings.
Birtwistle’s Style
By listening we can hear four basic elements in Birtwistle’s music.
Melody: often made of quite long notes

Gestures: short figures with a characteristic shape

Punctuation: Short, staccato, loud jabs

Ostinato: Repeated figures, which often feel slightly unsettled

Often these elements merge into one another: speed up a melody and it can
become a gesture; repeat a gesture, and it becomes an ostinato; punctuation
could be seen as playing all the notes in a gesture simultaneously; gestures
can be incorporated into a melodic line.

Birtwistle’s use of these elements is complicated further because he layers

the ideas within the orchestra: instead of just one strand of musical events,
there might be several, which might even be moving at different tempi.

Track 3 is an extract from Earth Dances which you will hear in the
Philharmonia concert. Which of the four basic elements predominates in this
extract? Which instruments play the various elements? How does layering
work in the extract?

“The chap who does the garden said he wanted to hear some of my music. I
said only on condition that you set aside half an hour, put the thing on fairly
loudly and sit down and listen to it today and tomorrow. That’s all that’s
required. I felt I had to lay down the law a bit. Most people have forgotten
what music is. Music is not really for listening any more.’” Birtwistle

Music is heard everywhere: in shops, lifts, on TV, film, etc. Do we ignore it

rather than listen to it? If so, does this mean that ‘music is not really for
listening any more’? Can you think of more examples in which we have music
as a background, and others in which we really have to listen to it very

Having heard extracts of Birtwistle’s music, do the challenges in his music

make you listen differently from your usual way of listening? Is this a good
thing? Is it challenging or are we simply not used to listening in this way?
Should listening to music be active or passive?

Has listening to the extracts been a comfortable musical experience for you?
Has it become more comfortable as you’ve heard more? Thinking about
some of origins of modernist music (eg. expressionism), do you think
Birtwistle intends the music to create a comfortable or uncomfortable
experience? Should music and the arts create comfortable experiences, or
should they provoke a reaction from the audience? Does this music provoke
an emotional reaction from you?

When asked how he thought people listened to his music, Birtwistle said ‘I
should think they find it horribly difficult. That’s their problem, not mine.’
What do you think of this statement?

One commentator described Birtwistle’s music as ‘from the outside rather

foreboding, even ugly – but once inside liveable, elegant and ultimately
Is this statement fair? Do you agree?
The Anti-Birtwistle argument:

‘If the piece sounds like a dissonant cacophony, that’s what it is’

‘It excludes in its language just about everything music lovers value’

‘Even pop music is going down the same road – from exuberant naivety
through a more refined and expansive maturity, to a brutal confrontational
nihilism based on easily-aquired, computer-based technology, shear brute
wattage and hyper- (not to say hyped) expressionism’

‘state-funded, yet exclusive, art”

(Taken from Hellewell, David The hecklers are right about the musical avant-

Are these statements fair, or do they miss the point of Birtwistle’s and other
modernist composers’ music? (If you’re listening for traditional melodies, you
will be disappointed, so listen for layers of melody, punctuation, gesture, etc.,

If the music is a dissonant cacophony, it must be totally disorganised. Does

Birtwistle’s music sound disorganised?

Is it only exclusive because audiences haven’t made the effort to listen



‘Taking a line for a walk’ - Birtwistle

Birtwistle is very interested in art, and produces his own pen and ink
drawings, some of which you will see in this pack. By using lines to represent
musical shapes, we’ll discover more about Birtwistle’s music.

Listen to the extract from Birtwistle’s Panic (track 8). As you listen write down
three adjectives which might describe the music’s character*.

In small groups pool your answers together, without duplicating any.

Listening more carefully:

The piece has two soloists, a saxophone and a drum kit (though you might not
guess the latter!). By listening carefully to the saxophone, we are going to
discover how the music is constructed.

0” – 27”
The saxophone is playing a melody. Is it made of long or short notes? Does
it keep coming back to the same note? Make a line which shows the
melody’s shape. It would start off looking something like this (which is 0” –

Other instruments are playing very different kinds of music around the
saxophone. Try and describe what these instruments are doing:
Piccolo and Trumpet
Lower Brass (trombone and tuba) – these enter towards the end of the extract
Can you create your own graphic for each of them. (Would any of the shapes
below be suitable for some of the music? What do you think?)

Add your chosen shapes to the saxophone line to produce a graphic score for
this section.

After 27’’ the music reaches a climax, which is followed by a passage (34’’-
39’’) which might look like this:

Who plays this, and how many times is it repeated? Does it feel more or less
energetic than the previous section?

From 40’’ – 1’06’’ the music becomes fragmented. The accompanying

instruments play disjointed, single notes. How does the saxophone’s playing
reflect this texture? What would this disjointed, fragmentary texture look like

From 1’07’’ – 1’17’’ the music turns into an ostinato (a repeated figure) for
saxophone and drum kit. Draw the shape of the saxophone figure. Is this
section more or less energetic than the previous one?

For a few seconds there is a moment of repose before the energy returns.
The rest of the extract is a duet between orchestral instruments and the solo
saxophone. Are these two lines related, or are they always in opposition? Do
they share any distinctive shapes?

The drums are also playing here – what are they doing?

Having listened to the extract, discussed the musical elements, and perhaps
discovered some new vocabulary, look again at the descriptive words that you
started with. Are they appropriate? Are they the whole story? As a group,
use them to write a paragraph describing the extract in both technical and
emotional terms.

*There’s a word list at the end of the pack which teachers can use as a
prompt. *

Exercise 2

Track 1 is an extract from Silbury Air and is much more subdued than Panic.
Birtwistle’s fascination with rhythm can be heard very clearly in it.

The first section consists of a single pitch which is played by a variety of

instruments in different rhythms. The next section alternates a ‘swirling’ idea
in the strings with repeated notes on the marimba, but the basic pulses of
these two sections are not necessarily the same.

In the last 30’’ different speeds can clearly be heard simultaneously.

• The solo double bass is playing against the percussive repeated piano
• A fragmented melody passes between lots of different instruments
• A disjointed cello melody
• The brass interrupt (en masse) at a new speed but don’t actually stop
the double bass.
How to compose like Birtwistle

“If I sketch a passage either in my head or on paper … in which one (idea)

leads smoothly and logically on to the next, I break these up when I come to
compose the work and reorder the events … These processes are how I
compose most of my melodies” Birtwistle

The aim of this game is for players to create a short piece of music which
gives participants a feel for using Birtwistle-like musical elements in a piece.
As you can see from the above statement, Birtwistle dislikes the idea of
logically ordered ideas, and tries to break these up to create something
irregular and unexpected. By working in small groups, which play
simultaneously to create musical layers, we’ll create something with this
unexpected effect.

Stage 1

In groups of 4-5 create the following, using what you have already heard of
Birtwistle’s music as a model:
• A long melody containing 8-12 notes. Choose 8-12 pitches which
create an interesting musical shape. Give each of them a number from
10-20, which will be the number of beats the note lasts. Set a fairly
slow pulse which will make the melody last about 30 seconds. Practice
playing the melody. Draw a graphic outline of the melody.
• Two punctuating chords. Without consultation, all the members of the
group choose a note. On a cue, play them together, as a short, loud
jab. Do this several times to find two different chords that you can
remember as a group – preferably avoiding consonant sounds.
Practice playing them together taking it in turns to lead.
• A gesture. This should be a short, distinctive, musical shape. It might
help to draw the shape on paper first, for instance:
Read the symbol from left to right, using the top as high, the bottom as
low. For dynamics, either use forte or piano, or interpret thick lines as
loud, thin ones as soft. All the group should read the sound
simultaneously, trying to produce something which ‘gels’ together. It
should last 3-4 seconds at most. Practice it until it feels comfortable.
• Ostinato. Piece together an ostinato from part of your melody and your
gesture. It should contain silence, and have a rhythmically irregular
quality to it, making it feel slightly uncomfortable.

Stage 2

Still in your groups, turn the four basic ideas into a short piece lasting 30-40
seconds. Try and merge the ideas together: perhaps the melody turns into
the ostinato, which is interrupted by the gesture, before it continues again.
Most importantly don’t play each element consecutively, but layer them, so
that various events happen simultaneously. This will mean one or more
players may have to stop playing a certain element (eg the melody) whilst
everyone else continues to do so. The piece can be semi-improvised, but try
it a few times until the group begins to feel how it goes. If it’s helpful, create a
graphic score of the piece.

Play the finished pieces to the rest of the class.

Stage 3

To get an even greater sense of layering, find a way to combine all the groups
together into one piece.

This can use musical signals to start and stop different groups. When group 1
plays their first punctuating chord, group 2 starts their piece. When group two
plays its gesture, group 3 starts. When group 3 reaches its punctuating chord
group 1 stops.

Only allow all groups to be playing simultaneously at one point in the piece,
and make this the music’s climax. Otherwise, allow plenty of time for each
group to be heard on its own, so that the listener’s ear doesn’t become too
confused too quickly!
Stage 4

Create a graphic representation of the whole piece (or at least of who is

playing when) to help everyone remember it. Perform the finished piece.

An example of how Birtwistle ‘sees’ his compositions

The Concert

In the concert, you will hear two pieces by Birtwistle, Earth Dances and

Earth Dances lasts 33 minutes and is scored for large orchestra. It is in one
continuous, organic movement, and Birtwistle likens listening to the piece to ‘a
traveller in a big city who moves around seeing familiar landmarks in different
contexts and perspectives, and gradually building up the idea of the city as a
whole, although he can never grasp the entire plan in a single view.’

It’s a very colourful score which has been compared with Stravinsky’s Rite of
Spring because it seems to be full of extremely raw, elemental energy. It also
contains lots of energetic ostinati (as does The Rite), but perhaps more
important is the idea of layering musical material, which could be compared to
the strata in a rock face. In the lowest register the music tends to use the
intervals of a fourth and fifth. In the middle, thirds (especially minor ones) are
prominent. In the upper register sixths, sevenths and ninths are used. He
doesn’t stick to these areas the whole time, as sometimes the musical ideas
drift from one register to another. And although it is difficult to distinguish
each of these layers, you will sometimes hear rapid scales, which is material
returning to its original layer after having drifted somewhere else.

The score is very busy – there’s a lot of foreground musical activity

(punctuation and gesture) which, if you listen to it for some time, can be
confusing. So, try and be aware of the melodies. Because these tend to be
made of longer note values, they drift into the background, but through
spotting them, the other faster and more lively material comes into

Antiphonies is written for orchestra and solo piano. Antiphony means an

exchange between two groups: a call and response. But here, the piano
never really stops playing, so the antiphony isn’t meant to be so much an
alternation between the two protagonists (though this does happen very
rapidly) but between the material which they each have. The antiphony is
between lyrical and percussive material, and you will here these two types of
material being thrown about within the orchestra as well as between soloist
and orchestra. Often the drama is produced through interruptions: a group of
instruments interrupting another’s lyrical material, trying to overwhelm it.

Generally, when you are listening in the concert, don’t listen for traditional-
style melodies, triadic harmony, or regular rhythms, as you will be
disappointed. Instead listen to the colours used in the orchestra, the way
melodies are overlayed with gestures and punctuation, and the ostinati which
emerge and gradually disappear. Keep your ears open!


Gritty Ugly
Uncompromising Beautiful
Difficult Powerful
Violent Raw
Aggressive Innovative
Different Avant-garde
Tough Fragmented
Energetic Vulgar
Compelling Fundamental
Colourful Elemental
Long Brutal
A Player’s View

Mark van de Wiel is established as one of Britain’s leading, and most

versatile, clarinettists. He is an avid fan of Birtwistle and of contemporary
music and as principal clarinettist of the Philharmonia Orchestra and of the
London Sinfonietta, he performs at major venues throughout the world.

We asked him describe what it is like to perform a Birtwistle piece:

“Birtwistle’s music has a reputation for being extremely challenging, both to

play and to listen to, and of course there’s truth in this! But, perhaps more
than any other living composer, his music can grip your attention and
emotions at the most basic level. You can be swept away by the music, and
entranced by it, even if you feel you can’t grasp everything that’s happening.
But perhaps that in itself is part of its greatness. Truly great music, such as a
late Beethoven Quartet, a Mozart aria, or a Wagner Opera, will always offer
something that can’t be explained, however familiar you become with it,
because it has depths that appeal directly to the emotions, beyond surface
beauty or analysis. Birtwistle’s music touches this area more closely than any
other being written today, and probably has done for the last thirty years or so.
The sheer physical thrill of being in the middle of the orchestra in The Second
Mrs Kong is an experience very similar to being enveloped by the sound of
Wagner’s Walkure.

A few years ago I was involved in a tour of about seven concerts with John
Woolrich’s Composers’ Ensemble. The programmes consisted of twelve or so
short new songs for soprano and small ensemble, written by a range of
leading British composers, along with pieces written by primary school
children. The audience at every concert therefore contained a large group of
children, many of whom hadn’t been to a classical concert before, and
certainly not one containing only contemporary music! Many of the pieces
were quirky and attractive. Harry’s piece Tenebrae (now one of the
movements of Pulse Shadows), is atmospheric and gripping, but on the face
of it the most strange and ‘modern’ sounding piece in the concert. At every
concert it was the only piece where the children were completely quiet and
concentrated on the music. However complex and strange, it had a direct
appeal for them.

Sometimes when rehearsing a large scale orchestral piece the conductor will
ask smaller sections of the orchestra to play alone. In a Birtwistle piece such
as Theseus Game this section may sound complete in itself – and with
another three or four layers to be added! The complexity can be mind-
boggling, but the result – sometimes mysterious, sometimes overwhelming –
is always exciting and moving.

Harry’s music has a unique sound – and he knows exactly what sound he
wants. When I played his Verses for clarinet and piano, which are beautiful
and soft little miniatures, I worked very hard to make them sound as lovely as
possible, using beautifully rounded notes and subtle phrasing, as though they
were Chopin Nocturnes, for example. Harry stopped me after a few seconds
of the rehearsal. “Where did all this phrasing come from?” he said. “I didn’t
write that. Just play the notes I’ve written, then stop!” I’d made the mistake of
trying to make the piece sound like something else. When I played it his way,
of course, it sounded more beautiful, and only like Birtwistle. A composer of
really great music can be identified straight away – and Harry always can.”
Further Information

• Birtwistle Games: CD Index

• Further Reading
• Harrison Birtwistle: A Timeline of Compositions
• The musical Team & contact details
Birtwistle Games: CD Index

1. Birtwistle – Silbury Air

London Sinfonietta/ Elgar Howarth from Birtwistle: Orchestral Works

2. Harrison Birtwistle in conversation

3. Birtwistle – Earth Dances

Cleveland Orchestra/ Christoph von Dohnányi

4. Harrison Birtwistle in conversation

5. Birtwistle – The Shadow of Night

Philharmonia Orchestra/ Christoph von Dohnányi

6. Dowland – In Darkness Let me Dwell

Andreas Scholl/ Edin Karamazov

7. Harrison Birtwistle in conversation

8. Birtwistle – Panic
BBC Symphony Orchestra/ John Harle & Paul Clavis/ Sir Andrew Davis

9. Harrison Birtwistle in conversation

10. Birtwistle – Theseus Game

Ensemble Modern/ Martyn Brabbins & Pierre-André Valade

11. Harrison Birtwistle in conversation

12. Birtwistle – Harrison’s Clocks

Nicolas Hodges

13. Harrison Birtwistle in conversation

14. Birtwistle – O Bone Jesu from The Last Supper

BBC Singers/ Stephen Cleobury

15. Harrison Birtwistle in conversation

Further Reading

The CD ROM Birtwistle Games that accompanies the pack contains a variety
of internet resources on Birtwistle, including an address for the London
Sinfonietta’s excellent guide to his music.

Adlington, Robert The Music of Harrrison Birtwistle Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press, 2000

Cross, Jonathan Harrison Birtwistle: Man, mind, music London: Faber &
Faber, 2000

Griffiths, Paul New Sounds, new personalities: British composers of the

1980s in conversation with Paul Griffiths London: Faber & Faber, 1985

Hall, Michael Harrison Birtwistle in recent years London: Robson Books,


Harrison Birtwistle Interview in The Guardian 28th November 2003 (can be

found online)

Harrison Birtwistle Interview with Dan Warburton


Hellawell, David The Hecklers are right about the musical avant-garde
Harrison Birtwistle: A Timeline of Compositions

Birtwistle’s compositions span the final half of last century and still new wonderful
works are appearing. Below is a timeline of his compositional output, showing the
variety of form and texture in which he composes:-
1950 Oockooing Bird for piano Prologue for tenor & chamber ensemble
1957 Refrains & Choruses for flute, oboe, Meridian for mezzo-soprano, soprano
clarinet, horn & bassoon voices, horn, cello & 11 players
1958 Three Sonatas for Nine Instruments Tombeau in memoriam Igor Stravinsky
1959 Monody for Corpus Christi for soprano, for Flute, clarinet, harp & string quartet
flute, horn and violin 1972 The fields of Sorrow for 2 sopranos,
1960 Précis for solo Piano chorus & 16 players
1963 Chorales for orchestra Chronometer for tape
Narration: A Description of the Passing Epilogue for baritone, horn, 4 trombones, 6
of a Year for chorus tam-tams
Music for Sleep for children’s voices, La Plage: Eight Arias of Remembrance
piano and percussion for soprano, 3 clarinets, piano &marimba
1964 Entr’actes and Sappho Fragments for The Triumph of Time for orchestra
soprano and chamber ensemble 1973 Grimethorpe Aria for brass band
Three Movements with Fanfares for Chanson de Geste for amplified sustaining
chamber orchestra Instrument and tape
1965 Carmen Paschale for chorus and 1975 Five Chorale Preludes for soprano,
obbligato organ clarinet, Basset horn and bass clarinet
Ring a Dumb Carillon for soprano, 1976 Melencolia I for solo clarinet, harp & 2
clarinet and percussion string orchestras
The Visions of Francesco Petrarca for For O, for O, the Hobby-Horse is Forgot
baritone, mime ensemble, chamber for 6 percussionists
ensemble and school orchestra 1977 Bow Down improvised musical theatre
Tragoedia for wind quintet, harp and string Pulse Field (Frames, Pulses and
quartet Interruptions) ballet
Verses for clarinet and piano Silbury Air for 15 players
1966 The Mark of the Goat for actors, singers, Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae
2 choruses and instruments Perpetuum for 14-31 players
1967 Punch and Judy 1978 …agm… for 16 voices & 3 ensembles
Chorale from a Toy Shop for 5 players 1979 Choral Fragments from …agm… for 16
Monodrama for soprano, speaker and Voices
chamber ensemble 1980 Mercure for chamber orchestra
Three Lessons in a Frame for piano, On the Sheer Threshold of the Night for
flute, clarinet, violin, cello and percussion Soprano, counter-tenor, tenor, bass and 12
1968 Nomos for 4 amplified wind instruments Voices
and orchestra Clarinet Quintet for clarinet and string
Four Interludes for a Tragedy for basset Quartet
clarinet and tape 1981 Pulse Sampler for oboes and claves
Verses for Ensembles for 5 woodwind, 5 1983 Duets for Storab for 2 flutes
brass & 3 percussion Deowa for soprano and clarinet
Linoi for clarinet and piano 1984 The Mask of Orpheus opera
1969 Down by the Greenwood Side Tan Tan Tethera
Some Petals from my Twickenham Still Movement for 13 solo strings
Herbarium for piccolo, clarinet, viola, cello, Secret Theatre for 14 players
piano and glockenspiel Songs by Myself for soprano and
Cantata for soprano and chamber Chamber Ensemble
ensemble Berceuse de Jeanne for piano
UT Heremita Solus for chamber ensemble Words Overheard for soprano and
Hoquetus David for chamber ensemble Chamber Orchestra
Eight Lessons for Keyboards 1985 Earth Dances for orchestra
1970 Medusa for chamber ensemble 1986 Endless Parade for solo trumpet,
Nenia: the Death of Orpheus for soprano Vibraphone & string orchestra
and ensemble Hector’s Dawn for piano
Fanfare for Will for brass ensemble
Signals for clarinet and tape Fanfare for brass & percussion
Dinah and Nick’s Love Song for 2 Tenebrae David for brass ensemble
Melody instruments & harp The Shadow of Night for orchestra
Les Hoquests du Gardien de La Lune for 2002 Bacchae Music to the play by Euripides
orchestra Theseus Game large ensemble with 2
1988 Four Songs of Autumn for soprano and Conductors
string quartet 2003 The Ring Dance of Nazarene for solo
An die Musik for soprano and 10 players tenor, Chorus and ensemble
Machaut à ma manière for orchestra The Gleam Christmas Carol for SATB choir
1989 Salford Toccata for brass band The Io Passion chamber opera
The Wine merchant of Robin of Mere for 2004 Night’s Black Bird for orchestra
male voice and piano 26 Orpheus Elegies for oboe, harp and
1990 Ritual Fragment for 14 players voice
1991 Gawain opera Today Too for tenor, flute and guitar
Four Poems by Jaan Kaplinski for Three Brendel Settings for baritone and
soprano and 13 players Orchestra
Gawain’s Journey for orchestra Three Arias for soprano, countertenor and
1992 Antiphonies for solo piano & orchestra ensemble
Five Distances for Five Instruments for
wind quintet
1993 The Second Mrs Kong opera
1994 The Cry of Anubis for tuba & orchestra
Fanfare for Glyndebourne for brass
ensemble and timpani
1995 Hoquetus Petrus for 2 flutes and piccolo
Panic for alto saxophone, jazz drummer,
wind, brass & percussion
1996 9 Settings of Celan for soprano &
Pulse Shadows for soprano, string quartet
& ensemble
9 Movements for String Quartet
Slow Frieze for piano & ensemble
Bach Measures for chamber orchestra
1997 Exody for orchestra
Harrison’s Clocks for piano solo
1998 Placid Mobile for 36 muted trumpets
The Silk House Tattoo for 2 trumpets & 3
side drums
1999 The Last Supper
Love Cries for soprano, mezzo soprano,
tenor & orchestra
Three Latin Motets for 18 part mixed choir
a cappella
The Woman and the Hare for soprano,
reciter and ensemble
Sonance 2000 for brass ensemble
2000 9 Settings of Lorine Niedecker for
soprano and cello
17 Tate Riffs for ensemble
The Axe Manual for piano & percussion
Ostinato with melody for solo piano
Betty Freeman: Her Tango for solo piano
The Sadness of Komachi for tenor and
prepared piano
2001 Saraband: The Kings Farewell for
Solo piano
The musical team & contact details

Pack Author – John Webb

John Webb (born 1969) has, it seems, always had an interest in music,
having begun playing the piano and viola from a young age and composing
his first piece by the age of 14. These skills led to him attending the
Birmingham Conservatoire, where he studied piano with Frank Wibaut and
composition with John Joubert. Subsequently he studied with Christopher
Brown at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he left with a MMus
and DipRAM. It was also here that, in his final year, John went on to become
the Leverhulme Composition Fellow and took his first step into educating,
undertaking two projects with London Music, one of which resulted in his
composition A Caribbean Dawn and Celebration, featuring a steel band from
a South London primary school.

Since then John’s career has gone from strength to strength. His
compositions have included works for various instrumentalists and
ensembles, he is a member of the Gamelan orchestra Swarånå and has
become an experienced educator in a variety of environments. This includes
lecturing at the Birmingham Conservatoire, teaching at the Royal Academy of
Music Junior Department and running educational projects with the English
National Opera, The Stables, Milton Keynes and Wigmore Hall.

His works include:

Prelude & Chaconne (1998)

Concerto for Accordion (1998)
Sextet for Piano & Wind (1998)
String Quartet – Cries of London (1994)
Barcarolle (1993-1994)
PUMP (1992)
The Tin-Pot Foreign General & the Old Iron Woman (1990)
Philharmonia Education Manager

Rachel Selvidge is the Orchestra’s Education Manager and the project

manager for Birtwistle Games. If you have any enquiries about the project
please contact Diane on 020 7421 2514 or email rachel@philharmonia.co.uk

The postal address is: Philharmonia Orchestra

First Floor, 125 High Holborn
London WC1V 6QA

We hope you enjoyed this pack and found it helpful. Please do let us know
any comments about the pack or if you would like any further information
about the Philharmonia Orchestra’s Community & Education Programme.