RIP Jonathan Harvey (1939 – 2012)

Damn, seem to be doing way too many post-humous shout-outs lately. I guess the plus side of this is that with the technology and sharing available now we can do our best to ensure their lifetimes of work aren’t forgotten and are continued to be recognised.

Kieron aka Charity Queen offered up the below words highlighting three releases from Jonathan Harvey, who passed away earlier this month. It’s a starting point for an incredible and influential catalogue that’s worth the time checking out.

via Charity Queen
The 4th of December saw the passing of the man who was, to my ears, Britain’s greatest living composer. I can’t adequately express how saddened I am by his death. He was a true original. Although equally comfortable working with both classical instrumentation and electronic sound, it was his pieces which delicately balanced both which had the greatest impact on me. I’ve fond memories of going to a recital of Tranquil Abiding and seeing him looking completely out of place, wearing a shabby suit and clutching a plastic bag full of groceries. I hope that his death prompts some reevaluation of his work and that he’ll finally attain the reputation as a significant force in classical music that he’s always deserved.

I’d like to celebrate his life and work by sharing some of his wonderful music with you all. First up of the day is the ‘Compositeurs D’aujourd’hui’ collection. Although all the work here is worth investigating, it’s Advaya, his 1994 piece for solo cello and electronics that’s most worthy of your attention. The part around 15-16 minutes in where everything becomes increasingly violent then whirls around your head, faster and faster, until it ecstatically erupts into high frequency static and hanging cello drone sets the hairs on the back of my neck off like little else.

Second up of the day is off of the ‘Computer Music Currents ‘5 compilation on Wergo which contains Harvey’s Mortuos Plango Vivos Voco (1980). MPVV was the result of Pierre Boulez inviting Harvey to create a work at IRCAM. Manipulating Harvey’s son’s voice and the sounds of Winchester Cathedral’s bell (the harmonic series of which provided much of the melodic framework of the piece), MPVV is one of the true masterpieces of electroacoustic music. The work reinvigorated Harvey, consolidated his blossoming interest in electronic music, and ushered in his most creative three decades, lasting all the way to his death. The rest of the music on the CD is well worth checking out too as it’s an interesting snapshot of computer enabled music from the 1980s. Denis Smalley’s Wind Chimes from 1987 comes highly recommended.

Finally, so as not to neglect his work for traditional instrumentation, here’s a Youtube link to Tranquil Abiding (1998), a gorgeous piece based around the breathing patterns and associated mental states of the Buddhist meditation that Harvey practiced. I don’t have this one on CD sadly, but seeing it performed live was a truly transcendent experience.

You can find a very thoughtful obituary from The Guardian newspaper here:

RIP Jonathan Harvey (1939 – 2012)