The most original and successful English composer since the death of Benjamin Britten, Harrison Birtwistle is an acquired taste as a musical proposition but a completely irresistible and unassuming man.
He is the first to admit that his music can be tough, but it’s a toughness that comes from the natural world and the farm where he grew up.
He is witty, warm and altogether wonderful at dinner – of you can hear his furry voice above the din.
I cherish the times we spent together.
He’s 85 today.
Many happy returns, Harry.
Here’s something I wrote for an earlier anniversary:
…The problem with Birtwistle is that he is a one-off, an original. From the night in 1967 when Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears walked out of Punch and Judy, his first opera, muttering about “intolerable violence”, it should have been clear that he was never going to fit into any canon or convenient category, English or other.
Birtwistle’s music sounds, on first hearing, extra-planetary, unfathomable. At second attempt, unaided, it gets no less weird. Yet I know no music of recent times that yields so easily to a key in the lock and, swinging open, delivers a sensation that is unearthly in the best sense of the word — that is to say, beyond earthbound imagination….
He cherishes the French pronunciation of his name — “Hérisson” — a hedgehog, a low and furtive creature that throws out spikes at a hint of danger. Birtwistle’s music is a bit like that, defending itself from casual acquaintance, forcing the listener to make a decision and pay attention. “None of that Classic FM rubbish,” he scoffs….
Read on here.
Earth Dances has been performed – and repeated – by the Berlin Philharminic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris and many other international ensembles.