" The trees of strings "
String quartet dedicated to Elliot Carter
Editions Boosey & Hawkes
- Nominated for : The Musical Composition Prize 2009
- Nominated for : The Musical Composition Prize 2005
Harrison Birthwistle studied clarinet and composition at the Royal Manchester College of Music with composers Peter Maxwell Davies, Alexander Goehr, pianist John Ogdon and conductor Elgar Howarth. In 1965, he sold his clarinet and devoted himself to composing, he left for Princeton after winning the "Harkness Fellowship" and finished his opera "Punch and Judy".
This work, with "Verses for Ensembles" and "The Triumph of Time", confirms Birthwistle as main figure in British music.
Between 1973 and 1984, the work of Birthwistle is dominated by his monumental lyric tragedy "The Mask of Orpheus", staged by the National Opera Francais in 1986 but also by a series of works now performed by many leading international ensembles, "Secret Theatre", "Silbury Air" and "Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum". Great scales of works are created the following decade: the opera "Gawain" and "The Second Mrs. Kog" concertos "Endless Parade" for trumpet and "Antiphonie" for piano, and "Earth Dances" for orchestra.
His more recent works include "Exody", "Panic", "Shadow of Night", "The Last Upper" is created at Glyndebourne in 2000. "Pulse Shadows", a meditation for soprano, string quartet and chamber ensemble won the Gramophone Award in 2002 for best recording of contemporary music. "Theseus Gam" (2003) for large ensemble and two conducters, the opera "The lo Passion for Aldeburgh Almeida", "Night's Black Bird" for orchestra, ...
In April 2008, his opera "The minotor" is created at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden (DVD available from Opus Arte)
"The corridor" and "Semper Dowland, semper dolens" (Music Theatre) and then open the Aldeburgh Festival occurs in London (The Souhthbank Centre) and at the Bregenz Festival.
The music of Harrison Birthwistle is led by many conductors such as Pierre Boulez, Daniel Barenboim, Elgar Howarth, Christoph von Dohnányi, Oliver Knussen, Sir Simon Rattle, Peter Eötvös and Franz Welser-Möst.
It is controlled and performed in many festivals: the BBC Proms, Salzburg Festival, Glyndebourne, Holland Festival, Luzern Festival, Stockholm New Music, Wien Modern, Witten Tage, the South Bank Centre in London, the Konzerthaus in Vienna and Settembre Musica in Turin and Milan.
He also received numerous awards and honors: Grawemeyer Award (1968), the Siemens Prize (1995) and is a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters in 1986 and Knight of the British Empire in 1988 and "Companion of Honour of the British and Commonwealth Order" in 2001.
He taught music by Henry Purcell at King's College London from 1995 to 2001 and is currently head of composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Records of Harrison Birtwistle's works are available from Decca, Philips, Deutsche Grammophon, Teldec, Black Box, NMC, CPO and Soundcircus.
(Source: Editions Boosey & Hawkes, trans. NM)
In the late 70's, Harrison Birtwistle lived on the island of Raasay off the west coast of Scotland. He found the peace and solitude he needed to compose, but was disappointed to discover that there is no survival of the indigenous musical on the island. Centuries of Scottish Presbyterian strict prohibition actually erased all traces of that culture.
Despite this, he says, soul music seems to persist on the island. Near his home in Raasey, there is an old "piper'house" (bell-ringer's house), in which, once the musicians came from afar to learn the "pibroch" (traditional Scottish bagpipe music).
During this period, Birtwistle has never tried to describe his music in the landscape nor the mysteries of the island of the Hebrides. But in his new work, "The Tree of Strings" (tree string), which is a 2nd major quartet after "Nine Movements for String Quartet" is the staged poetry "Pulse Shadows" (1996 Cycle) by Paul Celan.
Birtwistle has tried to evoke what might have been musically survived in a hostile environment in which interpretations were banned, and should have been from generation to generation through oral tradition.
The title of the work comes from a poem by Sorley MacLean (1911-1996) on music, entitled "Craobh nan Teud". The Gaelic poet, born in Raasay, regularly used in his work, the landscape of the island as a persistant metaphor.