1st Edition

Jonathan Harvey: Song Offerings and White as Jasmine

By Michael Downes Copyright 2009

    Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012) was one of Britain's leading composers: his music is frequently performed throughout Europe, the United States (where he lived and worked) and Japan. He is particularly renowned for his electro-acoustic music, an aspect on which most previous writing on his work has focused. The present volume is the first detailed study of music from Harvey's considerable body of work for conventional forces. It focuses on two pieces that span one of the most fertile periods in Harvey's output: Song Offerings (1985; awarded the prestigious Britten Award), and White as Jasmine (1999). The book explores the links between the two works - both set texts by Hindu writers, employ a solo soprano, and adumbrate a spiritual journey - as well as showing how Harvey's musical language has evolved in the period between them. It examines Harvey's techniques of writing for the voice, for small ensemble (Song Offerings), and for large orchestra, subtly and characteristically enhanced with electronic sound (White as Jasmine). It shows how Harvey's music is informed by his profound understanding of Eastern religion, as well as offering a clear and accessible account of his distinctive musical language. Both works use musical processes to dramatic and clearly audible effect, as the book demonstrates with close reference to the accompanying downloadable resources. The book draws on interviews with the composer, and benefits from the author's exclusive access to sketches of the two works. It contextualises the works, showing how they are the product of a diverse series of musical influences and an engagement with ideas from both Eastern and Western religions. It also explores how Harvey continued to develop the musical and spiritual preoccupations revealed in these pieces in his later work, up to and including his third opera, Wagner Dream (2007).

    Contents: Introduction; In quest: Jonathan Harvey's musical development from the 1950s to the 1980s; The approach to the absolute: metaphysical preoccupations in Harvey's music; Song Offerings (1985); White as Jasmine (1999); Towards pure lands: Harvey's music in the 21st century; Works by Jonathan Harvey; Select bibliography; Discography; CD track list; Index.


    Michael Downes, University of St Andrews, UK.

    'Jonathan Harvey remains one of contemporary music's most fascinating and fearless explorers. His musical quest, strikingly consistent over five decades of composing, is shaped by a vision, integrity and honesty of purpose that endure amid the changing tides of musical fashion. Michael Downes' beautifully written and insightful study reminds us that, in Harvey's work, music has not lost its capacity to chart the edges of human experience.' Julian Johnson, Professor of Music, Royal Holloway University, UK 'This is an informed study that benefits from interviews with Jonathan Harvey and access to compositional materials. Also taking account of other commentaries on Harvey’s music it offers an authoritative and balanced perspective, and gives the reader a strong context helpfully positioning the two works chosen for detailed examination. Michael Downes’s lucid discussion goes some way to explain why Harvey’s concern with philosophical and intellectual ideas has made him a composer more esteemed in Europe than in the UK. Certainly issues of transcendent spirituality and their musical expression are not simple matters to discuss. But Downes does not seek to reduce the paradoxical aspects of Harvey’s musical thought, but rather explains it all in ways that preserves the inherent intricacies of the underlying ideas. And despite the complex compositional processes in Song Offerings and White as Jasmine, the clarity of Downes’s explanations (well supported by music examples) and his avoidance of technical jargon for the sake of it, goes to ensure that the non specialist will also be able to follow and to draw much from his discussion.' David Wright, Reader in the Social History of Music, Royal College of Music, UK ’...one of Harvey's singular achievements is to make what "should" be uneasy seem engaging and even joyous. And Michael Downes's text [...] is able to convey this quality with notable authority.’ Tempo 'The principal aim of Downes's book is to prov