Personalities | Harrison Birtwistle | Modern Era | Opera

b. 1934, English

Uniquely gifted amongst contemporary English composers, Birtwistle first made a splash on the opera scene with the acclaimed Punch and Judy (1968). Centring around the murderous activities of Punch, the work distinguished itself through a lack of straightforward narrative, repeating the story several times from numerous different perspectives. Musically evoking the traditions of the Baroque era by endowing each movement with its own mood, the work drew on the traditions of Greek drama by punctuating acts of extreme violence with lullabies, duets and dances.

A number of other works followed, before Birtwistle repeated the Punch and Judy formula in spectacular fashion with The Mask of Orpheus. Completed in 1984, this highlighted the composer’s love of mythological characters and repetitive narratives, paving the way for Yan Tan Tethera (1986), a story that pits shepherds against the devil. Gawain (1991) focused on the knight of Arthurian legend, while The Second Mrs Kong (1994) was derided as pretentious by some critics, with its jazz references and characters such as King Kong, a beauty queen, Vermeer, Orpheus and Eurydice. However, The Last Supper (2000), once again focusing on the concept of ritual and the often-complex relationship between fact and fiction, signalled a welcome return to form.

Introduction | Modern Era | Opera
Personalities | Jussi Björling | Modern Era | Opera


An extensive music information resource, bringing together the talents and expertise of a wide range of editors and musicologists, including Stanley Sadie, Charles Wilson, Paul Du Noyer, Tony Byworth, Bob Allen, Howard Mandel, Cliff Douse, William Schafer, John Wilson...


Classical, Rock, Blues, Jazz, Country and more. Flame Tree has been making encyclopaedias and guides about music for over 20 years. Now Flame Tree Pro brings together a huge canon of carefully curated information on genres, styles, artists and instruments. It's a perfect tool for study, and entertaining too, a great companion to our music books.

Rock, A Life Story

Rock, A Life Story

The ultimate story of a life of rock music, from the 1950s to the present day.

David Bowie

David Bowie

Fantastic new, unofficial biography covers his life, music, art and movies, with a sweep of incredible photographs.