Birtwistle while you work...

Classical Academy | Composers | Birtwistle | 20th Century music

Born in a small mill-town in Lancashire, England in 1934, Harrison Birtwistle has become one of the most influential composers of the 20th Century. From the luscious and folksy sound of English compositions up until the 1950s, from composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams, he carved out a cleaner, sparser and more abstract, that was nevertheless full of musical vigour.


Birtwistle's music is hard to categorise. A few decades ago, he was labelled as being part of the "Manchester School" along with fellow composers Peter Maxwell Davies and Alexander Goehr, who he met while studying at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. But since their student days, all three composers have developed very different styles.

His earlier works are full of relentless repetition - they often feel a bit like a sacrificial dance (maybe taking influence from Igor Stravinsky's famous "Rite of Spring"). Such as in his first opera "Punch and Judy", where he explores the comical violence of the classic children's puppet show in new depth. But Birtwistle's music is not all violence - it is simply raw: the raw elements of music, emotion and humanity.


Explore some of works by Birtwistle and his contemporaries below. Listen out for the strong rhythms and repetitions.