Author Topic: Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012)  (Read 30827 times)

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Offline James

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Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012)
« on: July 11, 2010, 07:49:59 AM »
Almost uniquely amoung contemporary composers, Jonathan Harvey strives to make music of a consciously spiritual nature without rejecting the methods and strategies of modernism. While his contemporaries Arvo Part & John Tavener - inspired by the simple harmonies of pre-Renaissance polyphony - have sought the numinous by paring down their musical language, Harvey embraces complexity, revelling in the infinite sonic possibilities afforded by modern electronics. One of his most celebrated works, Mortuos Plango, vivos voco (1980), mixes the sounds of his young son's treble voice with the tolling of the great bell of Winchester Cathedral. The result is both poignant and reassuring in the way recognizable sounds art atomized via electronics into something timeless and ethereal.

Born in Sutton Coldfield in England, Harvey began his musical career as a chorister at St. Michael's, Tenbury. While at Cambridge University he had private lessons in composition with Erwin Stein and in analysis with Hans Keller. His early works reveal the influence of Britten as well as an interest in Schoenbergian serialism and the modalism of Messiaen. In 1969 a scholarship to Princeton brought him briefly within the orbit of Milton Babbitt, whose total serialism taught him the value of disciplined structural procedures. A more liberating influence was Stockhausen (the subject of a book by Harvey), whose experiments in rhythmic duration, the use of silence and the division of the orchestra into separate groups helped Harvey to develop a more personal and individual musical voice. Stockhausen's interest in Eastern ideas - both musical and mystical - has clear parallels with Harvey's own spiritual preoccupations.

Harvey's Christianity, which is coloured by both Buddhism and the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, is at the heart of his music. Much of what he writes for the voice - be it liturgical music or opera - is deeply contemplative and informed by a strong sense of ritual. But in all his music there is an extraordinarily ecstatic quality, a sensual enjoyment of the purely physical qualities of the sounds, sometimes violent, that he conjures up. This quality, or the way, as Harvey puts it, "music perpetually plays between physical sound and our subjectivisation of it", is graphically realized in Bhakti (1982) - the most thrilling and visionary of all his works to date.

BHAKTI
In the early 1980s, at the invitation of Pierre Boulez, Harvey worked at IRCAM, where he created Bhakti, a work for chamber orchestra and quadrophonic tape. Bhakti, a Sanskrit word meaning "to revere", is a Hindu movement emphasizing deep devotion to an individual god. Each of the work's twelve movements has a quotation from one of the ancient Rig Veda hymns, which encompass a range of moods, feelings and images and act as a stimulus to the musical ideas. Bhakti begins with a powerful representation of nothingness and the first stirrings of thought: it focuses on a single note, played by different instruments, which quietly builds and expands before a sudden flurry of more complex musical material. The tape (which is mostly composed of the electronically transformed sounds of the ensemble) acts as a contrasting voice in a dialogue with the acoustic material, and as means of conveying a tangible sensation of space, both outer and inner.

In the first half of the work a sense of restless and questing energy predominates, then from section seven - brimming with bells and bell-like sounds - a more celebratory mood begins to take over. The last section, which manages to be both clamorous and serene, almost fulfils Harvey's desire to reach "beyond the instrumental scale to a more universal dimension".



This second recording of Bhakti illustrates how a "difficult" contemporary can become clearer and more coherent the more often it is performed. There is a stronger sense of the development of ideas in this performance, as if the performers were thinking in terms of the journey - spiritual or otherwise. It's a quality enhanced by the stunning sound, wonderfully atmospheric in both depth and detail.

MUSIC FOR CELLO
Harvey was a professional cellist for a brief time and the cello is the instrument with which he has made some of his most personal utterances. He regards it as the most human of instruments, "...it speaks with every aspect of the human voice, masculine, feminine, powerful, tender, poetic, exclamatory, dreamy". The 1990 Cello Concerto was inspired, like Bhakti, by a Hindu text (a quotation from The Mahabharata) and it too unfolds as a journey - in this case the individual's journey towards a state of bliss. The soloist is, for the most part, surrounded by a web of bright percussive sounds (vibraphone, celeste, glockenspiel) which suggests an aura of protective light carrying it across the more earthbound sounds of the rest of the orchestra. The concerto was created in collaboration with its first performer, Frances-Marie Uitti, with whom Harvey has developed several subsequent pieces. In 1995 the pair spent two days improvising in Harvey's studio - Uitti exploring the full gamut of her avant-garde technique, Harvey responding on two synthesizers programmed with the same sound sources that were used in his opera Inquest of Love. The resulting CD, Imaginings, ranges from the rhapsodic to the explosive and possesses a directness and a spontaneity which are all too rare in contemporary classical music.



This disc generates a remarkable sensation of spaciousness and grandeur with the soloist, at times, an extremely vulnerable presence. Frances Marie Uitti seems able to respond with ease to all the technical difficulties Harvey throws at her and the result is an aural experience quite unlike any other.



On the whole it is Uitti who occupies the driving seat, generating melodic ideas which Harvey helps develop discreetly and sensitively. The predominant mood is one of contemplation, but this is not New Age background music, and the shifts and feints of the performers are, for the most part, unpredictable.

« Last Edit: December 06, 2012, 03:21:54 AM by James »
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Offline petrarch

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Re: Jonathan Harvey
« Reply #1 on: July 11, 2010, 12:16:55 PM »
Mortuos Plango Vivos Voco was one of the key pieces that got me into contemporary music, along with Ligeti's Kammerkonzert and 2nd String Quartet and Stockhausen's Kontakte. My first exposure to it was Boulez's coverage of it in his Passeport pour le XXe siècle TV series, where we could see Harvey working at the computer isolating partials out of the recordings of the bell and applying spectral techniques. It took me a little while to get it on CD, and it is still a piece I thoroughly enjoy listening.

I have the Montaigne CD with Bhakti (with the original cover, not the reissue blue one), and it has been a very long while since I listened to it. Your post might just be the trigger for me to give it another listen.
« Last Edit: July 11, 2010, 12:27:40 PM by petrArch »
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Offline lescamil

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Re: Jonathan Harvey
« Reply #2 on: July 11, 2010, 12:27:11 PM »
I just got the new disk that has Speakings, the large work for orchestra and electronics that was performed at the Proms two years back. It had two short pieces, Scena for violin and ensemble, and Jubilus for viola and ensemble, as fillers for the disk. I actually enjoyed the two filler works more than Speakings, which I found a bit aimless, but it still had some enjoyable parts to it. Harvey is a composer I am still trying to figure out, but he does have some gems that I go back to and listen to, such as Bhakti, Tombeau de Messiaen, and Body Mandala (which is part of a triptych with ...Towards a Pure Land and Speakings, actually).
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Offline petrarch

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Re: Jonathan Harvey
« Reply #3 on: July 11, 2010, 01:51:23 PM »
I have it on the Wergo Computer Music Currents 5:


I have the Speakings CD on my wishlist; the vocal analysis and translation into orchestra is something that I would like to listen to carefully.
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Offline PaulSC

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Re: Jonathan Harvey
« Reply #4 on: March 10, 2011, 10:24:16 AM »
Harvey is a fine composer and has done important work with electronic media. His Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco is a masterpiece. But I would reserve the title "Britain’s foremost composer of electronic music" for Denis Smalley. Still, I'm eager to hear this new disc on Hyperion; maybe it will change my mind.
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Offline Brewski

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Re: Jonathan Harvey
« Reply #5 on: March 10, 2011, 01:18:07 PM »
Somehow have missed this Harvey thread. Although I've not yet heard a huge amount of his music, one piece, which I've heard 3-4 times now, has captivated me: Tombeau de Messiaen (1994) for piano and tape. The piano is a normally tuned instrument, but the taped portion uses a piano sounds tuned to harmonic series, combining in a shimmering texture, like some kind of microtonal instrument. Absolutely gorgeous.

PS, found it just added to YouTube last month, here (pianist not identified):

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/L34rwJ1ZQZY" target="_blank" class="new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/L34rwJ1ZQZY</a>

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Offline Luke

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Re: Jonathan Harvey
« Reply #6 on: March 10, 2011, 02:30:23 PM »
Harvey is a fine composer and has done important work with electronic media. His Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco is a masterpiece. But I would reserve the title "Britain’s foremost composer of electronic music" for Denis Smalley. Still, I'm eager to hear this new disc on Hyperion; maybe it will change my mind.

Harvey's great, I adore his music - the best example I can think of of a composer steering a middle way bridging two seemingly incompatible extremes: a composer sophisticated and simple, complex and yet accesible, fully-realised and wonderfully open-ended, abstract and yet spiritual. Love it. I don't really see him as 'a composer of electronic music', just as a composer who happens to have worked in that medium. My favourite works of his, however, are acoustic ones.

Offline Luke

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Re: Jonathan Harvey
« Reply #7 on: March 10, 2011, 02:36:52 PM »
A couple of my own favourite Harvey discs:


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Re: Jonathan Harvey
« Reply #8 on: March 10, 2011, 11:19:44 PM »
Haha, he so looks like my stepfather.

I have the Montaigne/Arditti disc (big yes), Cello Concerto (been a while), and the Mortus/Vivo on Erato (not my thing). What are his Top3 Works?

Would you call him 'slightly' Tarkovskyian?

Offline Luke

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Re: Jonathan Harvey
« Reply #9 on: March 11, 2011, 01:13:01 AM »

I have the Montaigne/Arditti disc (big yes), Cello Concerto (been a while), and the Mortus/Vivo on Erato (not my thing). What are his Top3 Works?

Bhakti would certainly be in there, but otherwise it's a hard pick - there are many pieces like Song Offerings, Inner Light etc which are equally fine realisations of similar concerns, lots of orchestral pieces (such as, just for instance, the ones of the NMC disc I posted) which are in a way different facets of the same bigger vision, and then there are the operas...and then to another audience entirely Harvey is the composer of church music, and really fine stuff it is too. The quartets disc you mention is a winner, though - Lotuses and Scena, which are also there, are gorgeous things too, IMO.

Would you call him 'slightly' Tarkovskyian?

Wouldn't have occured to me, no...

Offline petrarch

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Re: Jonathan Harvey
« Reply #10 on: March 11, 2011, 03:09:09 AM »
I'm most fascinated by his music that has electronic components, synthesizers etc .. (he's so good at it) .. of the above set I really wouldn't mind hearing the SQ4 with the electronics.

I have that set, and would recommend it though it didn't grab me as I imagined it would. SQ4 with the electronics is not at all like the sonorities he achieved with Mortuos Plango.
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Offline CRCulver

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Re: Jonathan Harvey
« Reply #11 on: May 20, 2011, 10:46:13 AM »
Anyone know some good analysis of Harvey's music? I've tried doing a search of music journals on JSTOR, which came up empty, but there must be a few articles out there. (I own the Faber book, but it's not very deep.)

Offline petrarch

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Re: Jonathan Harvey
« Reply #12 on: June 05, 2011, 08:18:12 PM »
Works for piano, works for flute and piano



Quote
One might think Jonathan Harvey's age and stature would see him well represented in terms of CD releases. This is surprisingly not the case, however: there are relatively few recordings available of his major works, with some of those that were previously released having been deleted.

This release on Neos, then, of Harvey's music for piano and flute and piano, is a welcome one. Following upon the excellent Aeon disc from earlier this year of Harvey's string quartets, it suggests a renewed focus on the English composer's works, and an acknowledgment of his achievements to date.

The works presented here go back to Four Images After Yeats, written in 1969 while Harvey was still a student of Milton Babbit, and up to as recent as Tombeau de Messiaen from 2004 (which had a performance at the Proms last year). The listener in this manner is given a good overview of Harvey's style, from the early serialist influence to the later trademark masterful integration of electronics with acoustic instruments. Common to all the works is an impulse towards the lyrical accompanied by an expert sense of phrase.

The first two works are for flute and piano. Nataraja, from 1983, opens the disc in sprightly fashion. Lyrical passages on flute alternate with darting and rough-edged dual lines, building a dramatic interaction before some homophony calms the music down. Some passages, with repeated oblique motifs building up, bring to mind Messiaen's birdsong. These passages of calm establish themselves out of the tumult that precedes them, before then sinking back into that tumult again. In this way a playful mood is mixed with an ominous darker tone, a dualism that charts the eponymous god's dance of necessary creation and inevitable destruction.

 Run Before Lightning is not so directly spiritual as the preceding work but captures the dramatic scenario of the title. The proximity of the flute to the breath of life for Harvey always suggests the human voice. The writing for flute and piano is again outstanding in the balance it displays, each instrument enwrapped in the other while still given plenty of space, the counterpoint well developed and clear to follow throughout. Time is stretched and cut, dealt with as subject to the trail taken by the music. Such warping of time suggests the formative influence of Stockhausen on Harvey's compositional approach; and nonetheless, the phrasing always has flow and sounds natural.

Tombeau de Messiaen pits solo piano alongside a ghostly electronic piano double on tape. This second, absent piano is modulated digitally into microtonal areas inaccessible to its live partner, by way of an augmentation of the series of overtones. Polyphony of equal-tempered lines with microtonal ones disorientates and decentres the sound-world of the work, the live and the digital swimming in and out of each other. The mood, appropriate to the subject matter, is more subdued here than in the previous two works. Large chords, linked by a meek and plodding high register melodic line, gradually lead to the work's denouement in scattershot, bell-like harmonies, speeding up until halted by a tombstone-like final cut-off on the live piano, the spectral twin having dissipated into the aether.

The following four works are brief, each under three minutes and each of incidental character. The cumulative effect, though, creates a good balance for the disc as a whole. Vers alternates two contrasting musical ideas before splicing them together. ff, as the title indicates, is loud, experimenting with a quasi-modal melody in the left hand accompanied by clusters in a very high register in the right, acting somewhat as overtones to the lower notes (something also found in Messiaen's work). Homage to Cage, à Chopin (und Ligeti ist auch dabei) sees a breakneck, motoric line pulsating around the breadth of the prepared piano, like blood around a circulatory system, with an electronic accompaniment completing the playful manner suggested by the title. Blink and you'll miss Haiku: a seventeen-note scale, played rapidly, lingers on as a chord; and that's the piece, all nineteen seconds of it.

Closing the disc is Four Images After Yeats. This was Harvey's first work for solo piano, and one in which the Irish poet's occult concerns cross over with Harvey's own. The sound landscape here is pointillist, influenced by the post-serial context. The first piece has an almost lilting melody accompanied by sporadic, ametric figurations around the upper register. This and the following two movements are brief, with the final movement, 'Purgatory', much longer and holding most of the work's weight. Quotations from composers past – Mozart, Bach, Liszt, Scriabin – drift in and out of a heavy, brooding atonal atmosphere, creating an unsettling and tense feeling. It is a feeling perhaps delirious in effect, as the previous literature of the instrument reels by in chronological order. This ritual of music tradition makes a good close to the disc.

This release recommended to anyone with an interest in Harvey's music or contemporary British music in general. It boasts fine performances by Florian Hoelscher on piano and Pirmin Grehl on flute, injecting the tough scores with quickness.

Liam Cagney

There are two high points on this CD for me: Nataraja, which was a very nice surprise; I already had it on the Bridge CD, but it never really sparked my interest, so it needed some resolve to get to listen to it again. In this recording, the music glitters, shines and amazes. The other high point is Tombeau de Messiaen, which I already knew from one or two listens and wanted to get on CD for some time; the combination of piano and tape has always interested me (being one I have used in a sketch for a work in the late 90s) and here, the interplay of tape, made up of piano-derived sounds and timbres, and real instrument, works like a prism refracting the original sound into a rainbow of colours. There are other good bits here: Vers, which made me think of Stockhausen's Klavierstücke and Natürliche Dauern; and Purgatory, the 4th of the Four Images After Yeats, an interesting journey through disparate states of mind and memories.
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Offline lescamil

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Re: Jonathan Harvey
« Reply #13 on: December 18, 2011, 03:20:08 PM »
I'll surely be adding that to my ever-growing shopping cart. I have a live recording of the work, but it is not acceptable quality. I am a great fan of Messiaen's bird works and of Harvey's piano music, so I am extremely anxious to give this piece a proper listen.
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Offline edward

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Re: Jonathan Harvey
« Reply #14 on: January 27, 2012, 11:59:20 AM »
Tom Service interviewed Harvey in The Grauniad recently, too:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/jan/26/jonathan-harvey-not-very-british
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Re: Jonathan Harvey
« Reply #15 on: May 26, 2012, 02:27:24 PM »
I recently acquired the Koch cd with SQs by Harvey (No.1), Wuorinen, and Petersen, and have slowly been comparing with the early Arditti recording (which is deliciously vivid, btw).

Offline PaulSC

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Re: Jonathan Harvey
« Reply #16 on: September 20, 2012, 09:02:35 AM »
Thank you James. It's great to see Harvey's music receiving the attention it deserves.

That is, incidentally, the first I had heard about Harvey's battle with motor neurone disease (presumably ALS or a closely related condition). What a shame.
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Offline Brewski

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Re: Jonathan Harvey
« Reply #17 on: December 05, 2012, 09:44:41 AM »
Jonathan Harvey has died.  :'(

Imogen Tilden's obituary for The Guardian is here.

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Offline petrarch

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Re: Jonathan Harvey
« Reply #18 on: December 05, 2012, 02:55:55 PM »
Jonathan Harvey has died.  :'(

Wow, really sad news. I'm at a loss for words.
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Offline petrarch

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Re: Jonathan Harvey
« Reply #19 on: December 08, 2012, 09:43:50 AM »
"A composer who was equally at home in a cathedral or at IRCAM, name me one another composer of whom where that's true? -Julian Anderson

Easy: Luigi Nono, viz composing Prometeo for St. Mark's and his extensive work at the Experimentalstudio of the SWR.

I managed to attend a concert last night that included the last-minute addition to the programme of Mortuos Plango Vivos Voco as a tribute to Harvey. It was good to listen to it live at last, even though the acoustics of the old converted church played havoc with the bass bell sounds in the last segment of the work.
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