Harrison Birtwistle, one of Britain’s leading contemporary composers known for his experimental approach to writing classical music, has died at the age of 87, his publisher announced on Monday.
Birtwistle, who was born in Accrington, northern England, in 1934, created critically acclaimed operas such as “Gawain” and “The Mask of Orpheus” and the famous orchestral composition “The Triumph of Time.”
During a decades-long career that continued well into the 1980s, his works, ranging from chamber pieces to grand operas, were performed on the world’s greatest stages by some of the world’s greatest symphony orchestras.
He died at his home in Mere, south-west England, his publisher Boosey & Hawkes said in a statement posted on its website. No cause of death was given.
Birtwistle, who was knighted in 1988 and a Companion of Honor in 2001, began by studying clarinet and composition at the Royal Manchester College of Music.
He later sold his instruments to focus on composition, traveling to Princeton University in the United States as a Harkness Scholar, where he completed the opera “Punch And Judy”.
Premiering at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1968, the work, along with the instrumentals “Verses for Ensembles” and “The Triumph of Time”, firmly established Birtwistle as a leading voice in British music.
He became music director of the newly created Royal National Theater in London in 1975, a position he held until 1983.
Described in one obituary as “elusive and cantankerous”, he was widely recognized as groundbreaking for his uncompromising style, often presenting a cacophony of sound in his pieces that left audiences and critics divided.
The Royal Philharmonic Society was among the organizations and individuals that paid tribute to him on Monday, saying his music “shocked the earth”.