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Index • Welcome! • The Philharmonia Orchestra • The Philharmonia Orchestra Community & Education Programme



The Philharmonia Orchestra

The Philharmonia Orchestra Community & Education Programme


What is Contemporary Music?

Birtwistle’s Style


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

  

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.

One of the world's great orchestras, the Philharmonia Orchestra has entered the new millennium during

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 programme.

regional residencies have provided an ideal opportunity to expand a dynamic educational and community-based programme.
regional residencies have provided an ideal opportunity to expand a dynamic educational and community-based programme.

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 population

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.

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


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.

a premeditated snub to an event which is a beacon of cultural popularity. Harrison Birtwistle Photo

Harrison Birtwistle Photo by Hanya Chlala

a premeditated snub to an event which is a beacon of cultural popularity. Harrison Birtwistle Photo

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 19 th 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 another.

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

Birtwistle’s music. Melody: often made of quite long notes Gestures: short figures with a characteristic shape
Birtwistle’s music. Melody: often made of quite long notes Gestures: short figures with a characteristic shape

Gestures: short figures with a characteristic shape

notes Gestures: short figures with a characteristic shape Punctuation: Short, staccato, loud jabs Ostinato: Repeated
notes Gestures: short figures with a characteristic shape Punctuation: Short, staccato, loud jabs Ostinato: Repeated

Punctuation: Short, staccato, loud jabs

Ostinato: Repeated figures, which often feel slightly unsettled

Repeated figures, which often feel slightly unsettled Often these elements merge into one another: speed up

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.

extract? Which instruments play the various elements? How does layering

work in the extract?

Which of the four basic elements predominates in this


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 carefully?

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 beautiful’. 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- garde)

Are these statements fair, or do they miss the point of Birtwistle’s and other

modernist composers’ music?

will be disappointed, so listen for layers of melody, punctuation, gesture, etc., instead).

(If you’re listening for traditional melodies, you

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 differently?

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        

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‘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” –


off looking something like this (which is 0” – 13”). Other instruments are playing very different
off looking something like this (which is 0” – 13”). Other instruments are playing very different
off looking something like this (which is 0” – 13”). Other instruments are playing very different

Other instruments are playing very different kinds of music around the saxophone. Try and describe what these instruments are doing:

Woodwind Piccolo and Trumpet Drums 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?)

below be suitable for some of the music? What do you think?) Add your chosen shapes

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:

a passage (34’’- 39’’) which might look like this: Who plays this, and how many times

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 graphically?

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.

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.

On a cue, play them together, as a short, loud

A gesture. This should be a short, distinctive, musical shape. It might help to draw the shape on paper first, for instance:

gesture. This should be a short, distinctive, musical shape. It might help to draw the shape

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.

when) to help everyone remember it. Perform the finished piece. An example of how Birtwistle ‘sees’

An example of how Birtwistle ‘sees’ his compositions

The Concert

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

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 perspective.

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!
























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 28 th 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:-


Oockooing Bird for piano

Prologue for tenor & chamber ensemble


Refrains & Choruses for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn & bassoon

Meridian for mezzo-soprano, soprano voices, horn, cello & 11 players


Three Sonatas for Nine Instruments

Tombeau in memoriam Igor Stravinsky


Monody for Corpus Christi for soprano, flute, horn and violin


for Flute, clarinet, harp & string quartet The fields of Sorrow for 2 sopranos,


Précis for solo Piano

chorus & 16 players


Chorales for orchestra Narration: A Description of the Passing of a Year for chorus Music for Sleep for children’s voices, piano and percussion

Chronometer for tape Epilogue for baritone, horn, 4 trombones, 6 tam-tams La Plage: Eight Arias of Remembrance for soprano, 3 clarinets, piano &marimba


Entr’actes and Sappho Fragments for soprano and chamber ensemble Three Movements with Fanfares for chamber orchestra


The Triumph of Time for orchestra Grimethorpe Aria for brass band Chanson de Geste for amplified sustaining Instrument and tape


Carmen Paschale for chorus and


Five Chorale Preludes for soprano,

obbligato organ Ring a Dumb Carillon for soprano,


clarinet, Basset horn and bass clarinet Melencolia I for solo clarinet, harp & 2

clarinet and percussion The Visions of Francesco Petrarca for baritone, mime ensemble, chamber ensemble and school orchestra Tragoedia for wind quintet, harp and string quartet Verses for clarinet and piano


string orchestras For O, for O, the Hobby-Horse is Forgot for 6 percussionists Bow Down improvised musical theatre Pulse Field (Frames, Pulses and Interruptions) ballet Silbury Air for 15 players


The Mark of the Goat for actors, singers, 2 choruses and instruments

Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum for 14-31 players


Punch and Judy

Nomos for 4 amplified wind instruments


…agm… for 16 voices & 3 ensembles

Chorale from a Toy Shop for 5 players


Choral Fragments from …agm… for 16

Monodrama for soprano, speaker and chamber ensemble


Voices Mercure for chamber orchestra


Three Lessons in a Frame for piano, flute, clarinet, violin, cello and percussion

On the Sheer Threshold of the Night for Soprano, counter-tenor, tenor, bass and 12 Voices

and orchestra Four Interludes for a Tragedy for basset clarinet and tape


Clarinet Quintet for clarinet and string Quartet Pulse Sampler for oboes and claves

Verses for Ensembles for 5 woodwind, 5


Duets for Storab for 2 flutes

brass & 3 percussion Linoi for clarinet and piano


Deowa for soprano and clarinet The Mask of Orpheus opera


Down by the Greenwood Side Some Petals from my Twickenham Herbarium for piccolo, clarinet, viola, cello, piano and glockenspiel Cantata for soprano and chamber ensemble UT Heremita Solus for chamber ensemble Hoquetus David for chamber ensemble Eight Lessons for Keyboards


Tan Tan Tethera Still Movement for 13 solo strings Secret Theatre for 14 players Songs by Myself for soprano and Chamber Ensemble Berceuse de Jeanne for piano Words Overheard for soprano and Chamber Orchestra Earth Dances for orchestra


Medusa for chamber ensemble Nenia: the Death of Orpheus for soprano and ensemble


Endless Parade for solo trumpet, Vibraphone & string orchestra Hector’s Dawn for piano Fanfare for Will for brass ensemble


Signals for clarinet and tape Dinah and Nick’s Love Song for 2 Melody instruments & harp Les Hoquests du Gardien de La Lune for orchestra


Fanfare for brass & percussion Tenebrae David for brass ensemble The Shadow of Night for orchestra Bacchae Music to the play by Euripides Theseus Game large ensemble with 2


Four Songs of Autumn for soprano and string quartet An die Musik for soprano and 10 players Machaut à ma manière for orchestra


Conductors The Ring Dance of Nazarene for solo tenor, Chorus and ensemble The Gleam Christmas Carol for SATB choir


Salford Toccata for brass band The Wine merchant of Robin of Mere for male voice and piano


The Io Passion chamber opera Night’s Black Bird for orchestra 26 Orpheus Elegies for oboe, harp and


Ritual Fragment for 14 players




Gawain opera Four Poems by Jaan Kaplinski for soprano and 13 players Gawain’s Journey for orchestra

Today Too for tenor, flute and guitar Three Brendel Settings for baritone and Orchestra Three Arias for soprano, countertenor and


Antiphonies for solo piano & orchestra Five Distances for Five Instruments for wind quintet



The Second Mrs Kong opera



The Cry of Anubis for tuba & orchestra Fanfare for Glyndebourne for brass


ensemble and timpani



Hoquetus Petrus for 2 flutes and piccolo trumpet Panic for alto saxophone, jazz drummer, wind, brass & percussion




Settings of Celan for soprano &

ensemble Pulse Shadows for soprano, string quartet





Movements for String Quartet

Slow Frieze for piano & ensemble Bach Measures for chamber orchestra



Exody for orchestra Harrison’s Clocks for piano solo



Placid Mobile for 36 muted trumpets The Silk House Tattoo for 2 trumpets & 3


side drums



The Last Supper Love Cries for soprano, mezzo soprano,


tenor & orchestra Three Latin Motets for 18 part mixed choir



The Woman and the Hare for soprano,


reciter and ensemble Sonance 2000 for brass ensemble




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



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

The postal address is:

Philharmonia Orchestra

First Floor, 125 High Holborn



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.