Skip to content
Skip to navigation menu

Harrison Birtwistle's Operas and Music Theatre

New monograph by Dr David Beard provides the first definitive survey of one of Britain’s leading contemporary composers

Birtwistle book coverDue for publication later in 2012, Harrison Birtwistle’s Operas and Music Theatre is the first definitive survey of Birtwistle’s music for the opera house and theatre from his smaller-scale works to the full-length operas.

The publication blends source study with both music analysis and cultural criticism, focussing on the sometimes tense but always revealing relationship between abstract musical processes and the practical demands of narrative drama, while touching on theories of parody, narrative, pastoral, film, the body and community.

The study draws on a substantial body of previously undocumented primary sources  and is the first sustained consideration of all of the unpublished manuscripts associated with Birtwistle’s stage works, the vast majority of which have not been discussed in previous studies of the composer’s output.


Harrison Birtwistle’s Operas and Music Theatre will be published by Cambridge University Press.


Volume contents:
1. The roots of Birtwistle's theatrical expression: from Pantomime to Down by the Greenwood Side; 2. Punch and Judy: parody, allusion, and the grotesque; 3. The Mask of Orpheus: 'lyrical formalism', time and narrative; 4. Yan Tan Tethera: pastoral labyrinths and the scene-agent ratio; 5. The shadow of opera: dramatic narrative and musical discourse in Gawain; 6. 'A face like music': shaping images into sound in The Second Mrs Kong; 7. Corporeal music: Bow Down, The Io Passion and The Corridor; 8. The Last Supper and The Minotaur: eyes 'half filled and half deserted'; Bibliography.The Oresteia


Dr Beard has also previously published a study on Birtwistle’s music for Peter Hall’s cult production of The Oresteia at the National Theatre in 1981. The study appeared as a chapter published in Ancient Drama in Music for the Modern Stage (eds P. Brown & S. Ograjensek, 2010), and was the first detailed account of the production’s music.

He is also currently working towards the first monograph on music by Judith Weir, another leading composer of music drama. The project will discuss all of Weir’s published scores, including her most recent opera Miss Fortune, premiered at the Bregenz Festival in July 2011.