Born in Warwickshire (England) in 1939, Jonathan Harvey was a chorister at St. Michael’s College, Tenbury, and then studied music at St. John’s College, Cambridge. He received his doctorate from the universities of Glasgow and Cambridge and, on the advice of Benjamin Britten, studied composition with Erwin Stein and Hans Keller, both pupils of Schoenberg. He thus became familiar with the twelve-tone technique. From 1969 to 1970, he was a Harkness Fellow at Princeton University, where his meeting with Milton Babbitt had a considerable influence on his work. The new technologies, although still in their infancy at the time, opened him up to an avant-garde compositional dimension: the exploration of sound. His meeting with Stockhausen was also decisive, as it guided him in his learning of studio techniques. Their ideas converged on the fact that electronic techniques made it possible to transcend the physical limits of traditional sound sources. Both composers were seeking a rapprochement between the rational and the mystical, the scientific and the intuitive. In 1975, Jonathan Harvey published a book on Stockhausen’s work.
In the early 1980s, Pierre Boulez invited Jonathan Harvey to work at IRCAM, where he produced “Mortuos Plango”, “Vivis Voco” (for tape), “Bhakti” (for ensemble and electronics), “Advaya” (for cello and electronics), and String Quartet No. 4 (with live electronics). He also became familiar with the spectral music, which he considers a determining factor in the development of today’s music. In addition, he sees electronic sound as an opening to transcendental and spiritual dimensions.
Jonathan Harvey’s work covers all genres: music for a capella choir, large orchestra (“Tranquil Abiding”, “White as Jasmine” and “Madonna of Winter and Spring”), chamber orchestra (String Quartets, “Black Sun / Chitra” and “Death of Light”, “Light of Death”), ensemble, and solo instrument. He is considered one of the most imaginative composers of electroacoustic music. His first opera, “Passion and Resurrection” (1981), inspired the making of a documentary for the BBC (“The Challenge of the Passion”). The second, “Inquest of Love”, commissioned by English National Opera, was premiered under the direction of Mark Elder in 1993 and the third, “Wagner Dream”, commissioned by De Nederlandse Opera, Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg, Holland Festival and Ircam, was premiered in 2007.
Jonathan Harvey died in December 2012.