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Jonathan Harvey

Born: 1939

Died: 2012

Nationality: British

Publisher: Novello & Co

Photo © Maurice Foxall


Born in Sutton Coldfield in 1939, Jonathan Harvey won a scholarship from Repton to St. John's College, Cambridge. He studied with Erwin Stein, after whose death he continued composition and analysis with Hans Keller, obtaining a PhD. At Cambridge he was preoccupied with mystical ideas while becoming acquainted with procedures in medieval and renaissance music that were later to influence his own compositions. During the 1960s, Jonathan Harvey composed freely, responding to a wide variety of musical and religious experiences in his settings of medieval texts. Schoenberg, Berg, Messiaen and Britten were also early influences, and a broader base was achieved through the guidance of Hans Keller.

During a period of postgraduate study at Glasgow University, Harvey played as a deputy cellist with the BBC Scottish Orchestra. In 1964 he joined the Music Department of Southampton University. It was at this time that the power of Stockhausen's music first had a profound effect on Harvey, inspiring him to explore and develop his own complex and personal musical language. As a Harkness Fellow at Princeton (1969-70) he came into contact with Milton Babbit. In the early 1980s Jonathan Harvey was invited by Boulez to work at IRCAM, a connection that has resulted in many new commissions in recent years.

His works were performed abroad to an increasing extent over the course of the 1970s. Examples include his large scale orchestral piece, Inner Light 3 (1975), which was commissioned by the BBC, and first performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1976 at the Festival Hall, conducted by Michael Gielen. Another work dating from this period, Persephone Dream (1972), is acknowledged as a work of outstanding imagination and lucidity, demonstrating again this composer's remarkable skills in orchestration.

The transcendental quality of Harvey's music does not lose its force when he focused on the more intimate genre of chamber music. Among his most telling smaller-scale pieces are Transformations of 'Love Bade me Welcome' (1968) for clarinet and piano, Four Images after Yeats (1969) for piano, Correspondances (1975) for mezzo-soprano and piano, and Angel Eros (1973) for high voice and string quartet.

Jonathan Harvey was awarded honorary doctorates from the universities of Southampton and Bristol and was a Member of Academia Europaea. He was Visiting Professor of Music at the Imperial College, London (a post which was devised in collaboration with Sinfonia 21 with whom he had a long-standing relationship) and was appointed Honorary Professor at Sussex University.
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