Celebrating the unique sound of Harrison Birtwistle’s compositions | Harrison Birtwistle

Thank you for your wonderful obituary of Harrison Birtwistle (April 18), Accrington’s oldest son (and I don’t forget Accrington Stanley’s top scorer Dave ‘Haggis’ Hargreaves).

Harri has never wavered from his principles. As a result, he did not succumb to the temptation – as other composers of his generation and new generation did – to occasionally write popular pieces suitable for Classic FM playlists.

Like Benjamin Britten, I walked out halfway through his Punch and Judy due to broken eardrums. But I was captivated by Panic, which bothered traditional ballgoers so much, The Minotaur (ranked by the Guardian as the third best piece of classical music of the 21st century) and many more of his productions.

None of Harri’s stuff is fun to listen to, but that’s pretty much the point. You have to fight to get through the thicket of sound to the underlying musical thought. At a time when so much “classical” music is intellectual mush (pardon me, Messrs. Einaudi, Rutter, Jenkins, etc.), Harri stood out as a giant.
Simon Lawton-Smith
Lewisham, London

Without the slightest fanfare, not to mention flamboyance, Sir Harrison Birtwistle has become one of the dominant figures in British music. He always said what he thought, revealingly and with a calm accuracy that was memorable. Decades ago, I participated in the staging of some of his works (for example, a student performance of Down by the Greenwood Side at Kingston Polytechnic) and wrote about his works. He always said things that enlightened and hit the nail on the head.

And he was great fun. Not long ago, after being ill, I attended a performance of one of his plays and then went backstage to talk to him. Before I left, I said to him, “You know, Harri, the doctor thinks I don’t have long to live. He looked me up and down and said, “You look good to me. Tell the doctor to fuck it.

One of the treasures of this country.
Meirion Bowen
London

While I agree with everything about Harrison Birtwistle in your obituary, it seems to me there is a serious omission in his accepted canon – his opera Yan Tan Tethera. My wife and I were at opening night on the South Shore in 1986 and it haunted us for years. Such a shame that it slipped into almost complete darkness – a magical, mystical piece that tugs at heartstrings.
Kay Smith
Leeds

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