British composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle has died at the age of 87

Image credit: David Taylor

Sir Harrison Birtwistle, a well-known composer, died at the age of 87, according to his publisher.

The Triumph of Time, a 1972 orchestral composition, as well as the operas The Mask of Orpheus, Gawain, and The Minotaur, are among his best-known works.

He died on April 18th at his home in Mere, Wiltshire, according to publishers Boosey & Hawkes and agency Rayfield Allied. 

He was dubbed a true musical giant by the Royal Philharmonic Society. Sir Harrison had an “extraordinary degree of detail,” according to Martyn Brabbins, music director of English National Opera.

In Europe, the United States, and Japan, his music has been performed at major festivals and concert series, attracting prominent conductors such as Daniel Barenboim and Sir Simon Rattle.

The Triumph of Time was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and premiered in 1972. It is based on a painting by Pieter Bruegel, a 16th-century Flemish artist who depicts Time riding in a cart surrounded by skeletons.

The Royal Philharmonic announced that he had won five of the orchestra’s honours, saying: “His music shook the entire world.” Every note he wrote was full of intensity and potency. For decades to come, we will be awestruck by his works. 

Sir Harrison studied composition and clarinet at the Royal Manchester College of Music, where he met contemporaries such as Peter Maxwell Davies, Alexander Goehr, John Ogdon, and Elgar Howarth. He was born in Accrington, Lancashire, in 1934.

After selling his clarinets in 1960, he accepted a composition fellowship at Princeton University in the United States, where he wrote the opera Punch and Judy. Along with Verses for Ensembles and The Triumph of Time, this composition cemented Sir Harrison’s reputation as a key figure in British music.

He became musical director of the Royal National Theatre in London in 1975 and remained there until 1983.

In 1988, he was knighted, and in 2001, he was appointed Companion of Honour.

Sir Harrison is survived by his three sons and six grandchildren after his wife, Sheila Duff, died in 2012.