An Obituary by Julian Anderson

You will all be very sad to hear that the wonderful composer Jonathan
Harvey died on the evening of Tuesday 4th December, at the age of 73,
after a long struggle with Motor Neurone Disease. His family were with
him and he was receiving excellent care and nursing.
Harvey's music received until recently rather more performances in
mainland Europe, Scandinavia, Japan and the US than in the UK. In the
past 5 years or so, he was finally getting more sustained attention in
this country. As an example of the difference in his perceived status
here and abroad, I recall that in 1994 a student at the Paris
Conservatoire came up to me and timidly asked if I had ever met Jonathan
Harvey, 'the greatest composer since Messiaen.' This opinion was not
uncommon abroad in the past twenty years, where works such as 'Bhakti'
or 'Song Offerings' were studied in music schools and regarded as
seriously as the latest Boulez or Carter.
Jonathan Harvey studied composition with Benjamin Britten, Erwin Stein,
Hans Keller and Milton Babbitt. He also attended, and was much
influenced by, Karlheinz Stockhausen's composition courses at Darmstadt
in 1966-7. He was a pioneer in the field of electro-acoustic
composition, a field in which he worked more consistently than any other
concert composer in Britain. His electronic pieces ranged from Inner
Light I for 7 instruments and tape (1971), commissioned by Britten for
the Aldeburgh Festival, which was made with primitive analogue equipment
such as ring modulation and varispeed tape-recorders, right up to such
later masterpieces as 'Speakings' (2008) for orchestra and live
electronics, completed a few years ago and using the latest software
from IRCAM in Paris. Harvey was awarded the Prix de Composition de la
Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco for 'Speakings' in 2010. Sadly it
turned out to be his last purely orchestral work. Harvey's best known
electronic piece is also one of the most famous ever composed, 'Mortuos
Plango, Vivos Voco' (1980, IRCAM). It combined the recorded and
resynthesised tenor bell of Winchester Cathedral with the voice of his
son Dominic, then in Winchester Cathedral Choir. The euphonious,
celebratory result was an immediate hit internationally and has remained
a classic of this genre.
Harvey's four string quartets have quickly entered the chamber music
repertoire and have been recorded complete more than once. A prolific
composer, he was active in providing music for all genres, from
well-known solo works such as 'Curve with Plateau' for cello, to several
full scale operas, of which 'Wagner Dream' (2004) was perhaps the best
known. Everything he composed was informed by an intimate knowledge of
the potentials of the instruments, and he enjoyed many long and
successful collaborations with the many of the best performers of the
period, such as cellist Francis-Marie Uitti, conductors Pierre Boulez,
Simon Rattle and Ilan Volkov, ensembles such as the Arditti String
Quartet, the Ensemble InterContemporain, Ensemble Modern, Ictus,
L'Itineraire, and many others. Harvey was a gifted cellist himself,
having played in the cello sections of the National Youth Orchestra and
the BBC Scottish Symphony, and his music remained deeply routed in
performance practice and practicality, however complex the figurations
could become.
Harvey also composed numerous much-loved pieces for the many British
cathedral choirs. Of these, 'I love the Lord' (1976) and 'The Angels'
(1992) have remained the most recorded and performed. Harvey had been a
chorister at St. Michael's Tenbury, and this aspect of his output was
one he held very dear (it was the one side of his work more neglected
abroad but much performed in the UK).
Harvey taught composition for many years at Southampton and Sussex
Universities, and also as guest in the US. He was generous and
altruistic, always interested in his colleagues' work, humble in his
opinions of his own, unpretentious, lively and endlessly inquisitive.
Whilst he held true to his own stylistic path, or perhaps because he did
so, he was enthusiastically supportive of the work of many very
different composers such as Robin Holloway, Gordon Crosse and Brian
Ferneyhough (of whom he was perhaps the earliest prominent advocate in
the UK - his 1979 article on Ferneyhough in 'The Musical Times' (see it
on JSTOR) is still one of the best on that composer). He was absolutely
uncompetitive in his attitude towards his contemporaries and students.
In this as in much else, Harvey was a model for us all.
Some of you may have experienced Harvey's music in the recent festivals
of the BBC (Total Immersion in January) and at the Royal Festival Hall
in October. The halls were gratifyingly full for these events, though
sadly the composer was already too ill to be present in person. Happily
live relays through Skype enabled him to witness these successes in his
home in Sussex.
Julan Anderson

Updates 0

Raising money for

Motor Neurone Disease Association

Motor Neurone Disease Association

Charity Registration No. 294354

The MND Association is the only national charity in England, Wales and Northern Ireland dedicated to improve care and support for people affected by MND, fund and promote research, and campaign and raise awareness so the needs of people with MND are addressed by society. Visit

Raising money for

Run by Motor Neurone Disease Association

Charity Registration No. 294354

Donations 23

In memory of Jonathan... am pleased to help Anna and MNDA to find a remedy and ease the suffering.

Donation by Anonymous on 13/06/13

Donation by Anonymous on 18/05/13

A wonderful composer and generous man whose music continues to inspire.

Donation by Sam Wilcock on 17/05/13

Donation by Margaret Goldsmith on 08/05/13


+ £10.00 Gift Aid

In memory of a wonderful man and a wonderful composer, who always shared so generously his zest for life and for music.

Donation by elaine gould on 12/02/13

I shared wonderful time with Jonathan/Anna Harvey in Tokyo in Summer of 2010. I've noticed his passing away at the end of Dec 2012.

Donation by Yukihiro Yoshida on 14/01/13

There are no words, except gratitude for having crossed paths with this man who was as brilliant a human being as he was a composer.

Donation by Margery Arent Safir on 07/01/13

On behalf of Jane Craggs - thanks Jane xx

Donation by anna harvey on 04/01/13

Jonathan Harvey explored and enriched the musical world immensely with new soundworlds and humanity. I remember him with gratitude and affection.

Donation by Malcolm Miller on 29/12/12

In loving memory of a remarkable man

Donation by Colin Matthews on 21/12/12

In loving memory of Jonathon and with love to his family.

Donation by Shan Torgbor on 15/12/12


+ £7.50 Gift Aid

Jonathan's music was not only sublime and original, he was also pushing the boundaries of musical thought. He will be greatly missed.

Donation by Philip Appleby on 13/12/12


+ £5.00 Gift Aid

An inspirational, humble and endearing person. An honour to have met him and to have played some small part in promoting his music.

Donation by Steve Sanders on 13/12/12


+ £5.00 Gift Aid

Jonathan was an inspiring composer and a wonderful man. He will be greatly missed, and our love and condolences go to the family.

Donation by Peter & Jan Broadbent on 13/12/12


+ £5.00 Gift Aid

It was always a pleasure and an inspiration to work with Jonathan on his recordings; he's remembered with affection.

Donation by Hannah Vlcek on 12/12/12


+ £5.00 Gift Aid

Love and condolences to all of the Harvey family.

Donation by Stephen Taverner on 11/12/12

A shining example, and a great loss.

Donation by Richard Baker on 11/12/12

Donation by Andrew Brereton on 11/12/12

So sorry at the loss of such a fine man. I hope and pray that one day a cure for Motor Neurone Disease will be found.

Donation by Anna Joubert on 10/12/12


+ £2.50 Gift Aid

With best wishes!

Donation by Anne Kästner on 10/12/12


Donation by Nicholas Daniel on 10/12/12

A pleasure to have worked with Jonathan on a number of wonderful NMC recordings.

Donation by Eleanor Wilson on 10/12/12


+ £5.00 Gift Aid

It was an honour to work with Jonathan & get to know his visionary music. He faced his illness with an honesty & calmness that was inspiring.

Donation by Sonia Stevenson on 10/12/12


+ £5.00 Gift Aid

Donation summary

  • * Online donations£1,000.13
  • Offline donations£0.00
  • Text donations£0.00
  • Total raised£1,000.13
  • Gift Aid£182.50

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