Harrison Birtwistle: The Mask of Orpheus: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Harrison Birtwistle: The Mask of Orpheus

1st Edition

By Jonathan Cross


196 pages

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Hailed at its premiere at the London Coliseum in 1986 as the most important musical and theatrical event of the decade, The Mask of Orpheus is undoubtedly a key work in Harrison Birtwistle's output. His subsequent stage and concert pieces demand to be evaluated in its light. Increasingly, it is also viewed as a key work in the development of opera since the Second World War, a work that pushed at the boundaries of what was possible in lyrical theatre. In its imaginative fusion of music, song, drama, myth, mime and electronics, it has become a beacon for many younger composers, and the object of wide critical attention. Jonathan Cross begins his detailed study of this 'lyric tragedy' by placing it in the wider context of the reception of the Orpheus myth. In particular, the significance of Orpheus for the twentieth century is discussed, and this provides the backdrop for an examination of Birtwistle's preoccupation with the story in a variety of works across his creative life. The sources and genesis of The Mask of Orpheus are explored. This is followed by a close reading of the work's three acts, analysing their structure and meaning, investigating the relationship between music, text and drama, drawing on Zinovieff's textual drafts and Birtwistle's compositional sketches. The book concludes by suggesting a range of contexts within which The Mask of Orpheus might be understood. Its central themes of time, memory and identity, loss, mourning and melancholy, touch a deep sensibility in late-modern society and culture. Interviews with the librettist and composer round off this important study.


'This study offers, for the first time, a fascinating scene-by-scene commentary on Birtwistle's magnum opus. Drawing on revealing insights from the composer's sketches, Jonathan Cross negotiates expertly between details of compositional structure and the work's poetic content. The frequent references to other works make this book a valuable companion for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of Birtwistle's music.' Robert Adlington, University of Nottingham, UK 'With Jonathan Cross, author of numerous important texts on Birtwistle, [The Mask of Orpheus] has found a most persuasive advocate.' Music and Letters

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction; The myth of Orpheus; The Mask of Orpheus: Act I; The Mask of Orpheus: Act II; The Mask of Orpheus: Act III; Interpreting Orpheus; Looking back: interviews with Peter Zinovieff and Harrison Birtwistle; Appendices; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

Jonathan Cross is Professor of Musicology at Christ Church, University of Oxford, UK

About the Series

Landmarks in Music Since 1950

Landmarks in Music Since 1950
Schoenberg's death in 1951 marked the end of an era which has been dominated by some of the most radical artistic re-thinking and innovation since the Renaissance. The second half of the century saw a new generation of composers, schooled at Darmstadt, Cologne, Paris, Cracow, Manchester and elsewhere, which began to make its mark on the development of European and world music. The revolutionary pulpit of Schoenberg had become the play-pen of Boulez and Stockhausen. This series of handbooks devoted to single seminal compositions or groups of works by important composers who have been active since 1950 fills a major gap in current music literature. Well-informed, focused commentaries that are more detailed than record notes, give readers an enhanced understanding and appreciation of some of the most significant musical achievements of the last half-century. Each handbook features: · A general introduction to the choice of work under discussion · Details of the commission and composition history · Contextual discussion of stylistic, generic and international influences and precedents · A description and analysis of the work · A survey of its reception · A bibliography and discography · CD recording

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
MUSIC / General