Written By The Wagnerian on Thursday, 6 December 2012 | 1:49:00 pm
Included below is both part of the obituary in yesterdays Guardian and his opera about Wagner's last few minutes - Wagner Dream. If you are in the UK in 2013 WNO will be performing Wagner Dream for the first time fully staged in the UK. More information here (Trailer below). Last year we also reprinted an explanation he gave regarding the composition of Wagner Dream - that can be found by clicking this link.
The composer Jonathan Harvey, who has died aged 73 after suffering from motor neurone disease, was unique in the way he put digital technology and a strenuously rational approach to music at the service of a deeply spiritual message. In terms of international profile and honours, Harvey's status was almost on a par with his slightly older colleagues Harrison Birtwistle and Peter Maxwell Davies. While they have always been in the news, thanks to their pugnaciously unfashionable views and hard-edged modernism, Harvey's rise was so inconspicuous that even the musical world seemed not to realise just how eminent he had become.
He was a quiet man, tall and slightly stooping, with the fluty and precisely modulated voice of an Anglican clergyman. His music, though not without its tumult and discord, on the whole speaks in a similarly quiet voice. What makes it distinctive is its otherworldly, incandescent sound and sinuous oriental-sounding melodies, which give it a sense of ecstatic striving for a world beyond this one.
Born in Sutton Coldfield, in the west Midlands, Harvey was joyously aware of that other world from early childhood. His interest in music started early on, and was stimulated by his businessman father, who had surprisingly unorthodox tastes. Harvey became a chorister at St Michael's college in Tenbury, Worcestershire, and it was here, during a concluding organ voluntary after evensong, that he had a life-changing experience.
"Usually these voluntaries were real milk-and-water affairs," he recalled, "but one day the organist did something really wild, which was thrilling. I knew in that moment that I wanted to be a composer, and do something similar." The years at Tenbury also gave him an enduring taste for unaccompanied choral music, shown in the modest liturgical works for Anglican liturgy that sit in his work-catalogue alongside big complex works for orchestra and electronics.
Harvey went on to study music at St John's College, Cambridge, and sent some of his early compositions to Benjamin Britten. On Britten's advice he went on to study privately with two doughty defenders of the European tradition, Erwin Stein and Hans Keller.
They instilled a keen sense in Harvey that music has to be unified to be coherent. It was a useful lesson; Harvey seems to have been touched by the prevailing flower-power ethos, and some of his early works, such as Ludus Amoris (1969, written for the Three Choirs Festival), have a kind of anything-goes exuberance, not so far from other quintessentially 1960s works such as John Tavener's Celtic Requiem