Review of Jonathan Cross. 2000. Harrison Birtwistle: Man, Mind, Music. Ithaca: Cornell University Press; and Robert Adlington. 2000. The Music of Harrison Birtwistle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
The more or less simultaneous appearance of these two substantial books on the music of Harrison Birtwistle by a pair of British academics is clinching evidence-if such a thing were required-of Birtwistle’s standing as a major world figure, at least in the eyes of his British admirers. All the same, something needs to be said about that qualification. Birtwistle also enjoys a certain reputation on the European mainland, but it is of much more recent date and by no means universal. His manuscripts are housed in the archive set up in Basle by the late Paul Sacher, who commissioned his trumpet concerto Endless Parade in 1986; but the distinguished Franco-Swiss-German musicologists who now run the Sacher Stiftung are by no means unanimous in their admiration. As for the United States, my impression from across the pond is that Birtwistle’s music, like his person, is a very intermittent presence. Presligious commissions like Exody (for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) can be traced to influential admirers-in this case, Daniel Barenboim, who was also midwife to the Berlin premiere of Birtwistle’s latest opera, The Last Supper. Otherwise, in the States most of Birtwistle’s stage works, and much else of note, remain little known.
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- August 18, 2022