Jonathan Dean Harvey (3 May 1939 – 4 December 2012) was a British composer. He held teaching positions at universities and music conservatories in Europe and the USA and was frequently invited to teach in summer schools around the world.
After studies at Cambridge and Glasgow universities, he was a lecturer at Southampton University from 1964, and successively lecturer, reader, and professor at the University of Sussex from 1977 to 1993. He then became part-time, honorary professor at Sussex, and also part-time professor at Stanford University from 1995.
With the encouragement of his father, Harvey began to compose at an early age. Studying with Erwin Stein and Hans Keller, the influence of (among others) Bartók and Britten was soon complemented by interest in the serial techniques of Schoenberg and Webern, and also in the alliance between modality and mysticism found in Messiaen. An early ability to generate substantial structures by means of such diverse sources is demonstrated in Harvey’s Symphony (1966), but at that date his creative evolution had only just begun. During the mid-1960s he became increasingly aware of new attitudes to time and space in the music of Stockhausen (on whom he published a monograph in 1975), and a period of study at Princeton with Babbitt strengthened his concern with post-tonal compositional systems as well as with the possibilities of electro-acoustic techniques. He began to include material on tape alongside writing for instrumental and vocal performers, as in Cantata VII: On Vision (1971) and the Inner Light trilogy (1973–5).
The title of the trilogy points to one of the most important of Harvey’s discoveries and interests, the writings of Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925), whose meditative approach to spirituality is embodied in most of Harvey’s mature works in varying degrees. In the first string quartet (1977) Harvey responded to Steiner’s idea that ‘the future development of music will … involve a recognition of the special character of the individual note’, which ‘expands into a melody and harmony leading straight into the world of the spirit’. There is a clear affinity between Harvey’s quartet and the contemplative harmonic explorations of Stockhausen’s Stimmung, while its dance-like melodic character evokes the musical world of Messiaen. But for Harvey, like Stockhausen, the best way to explore ‘the special character of the single note’ was by means of electro-acoustics, and as an early recruit to IRCAM he found Boulez’s Paris Institute a stimulating environment for the development of his technical and aesthetic predispositions.
Beginning with Mortuos plango, vivos voco (1980), a brilliantly successful tape piece built from the sounds of a bell and a boy soprano, Harvey progressed to one of his most substantial and satisfying scores, Bhakti for fifteen players and pre-recorded tape (1982). Bhakti is a Hindu religious term signifying ‘devotion to a god, as a path to salvation’, but it is also a form of yoga, and its musical implications involve the exploration of devotional states which combine the contemplative and the celebratory. Its range of expression and spontaneity of musical character, as well as its technical assurance, makes Bhakti one of the outstanding British compositions of its time, and it had a decisive impact on Harvey’s later work.
One of Harvey’s most revealing comments is that ‘the bass moves into the middle: that is our revolution’ (Harvey, 1982, p.2). This implies rejection of tonality’s bass-generated coherence, and an embrace of the new freedoms and possibilities of an atonal language in which various kinds of mirror symmetry provide generative impetus for an idiom that can move flexibly through musical space, rejecting the rootedness of traditional kinds of harmonic function.
Harvey has increasingly favoured live electronic transformation as a means of exploring the intense ambiguities present within sounds and between instruments, and these explorations can generate highly dramatic structures and ideas, as in Madonna of Winter and Spring (1986). Harvey has also composed two operas, Passion and Resurrection (1981) and Inquest of Love (1991–2), but his music seems most fully itself when the drama is implicit in textures and structures, through which acoustic and electro-acoustically modified sounds can interact. It is therefore a logical development for Harvey that from the mid-1990s he has been working with what he terms ‘the new Pythagoreanism’, using computer manipulation to explore harmonic structures in ways which align him with the French ‘spectralist’ school of composers.
After Inquest of Love Harvey’s works of the 1990s ranged from the ritual dance of Lotuses (1992) and the Bhakti-like euphony of One Evening … (1994) to the fierce rituals of Advaya (1994) and Soleil noir/Chitra (1995). For all its spiritual poise and meditative intensity, his music does not shun darker moods and more turbulent feelings. Scena(1992), a work without an electro-acoustic element, is a concentrated violin concerto which charts a spiritual transformation from a powerfully human sense of grief and rage to an otherworldly release. In Scena Harvey displays a resourceful command of instrumental sonority. His writing for strings may often resist their more traditional lyrical qualities, but it proceeds from a deep knowledge and experience of their technical possibilities, reflecting his respect for the music of Xenakis and the younger, ‘complex’ composers (Ferneyhough, Dillon), and also his close association with such virtuoso performers as the cellist Frances-Marie Uitti and the Arditti Quartet.
In 1995 Harvey gave the Bloch Lectures at Berkeley, and their title, In Quest of Spirit: Explorations of the Spiritual Nature of Music, indicates his continued commitment to a view of modern man as having the potential for developing what he terms ‘a free-willed unity of consciousness, which contains divergence, beyond opposites’. Harvey’s music is no less representative of a unity that contains and even rejoices in divergence, in keeping with his understanding of music’s inherent duality and ambiguity, and, above all, his search for a spiritual dimension in which energy and stillness interact.
From 2005 to 2008, Harvey held the post of Composer in Association with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
In 2009 he was Composer in Residence at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. He died, aged 73, in Lewes.
- Dialogue and Song for cello and piano (1965/1977)
- Four Images after Yeats for piano (1969)
- Piano Trio (1971)
- String Quartet No. 1 (1977)
- O Jesu Nomen Dulce for choir (1979)
- Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco, computer-manipulated concrete sounds (pre-recorded octophonic tape), for tape (1980)
- Mythic Figures (1980)
- Bhakti for 15 players and quadrophonic tape (1982)
- Curve with Plateaux for solo cello (1982)
- Flight-Elegy for violin and piano (1983–89)
- Nataraja for flute, piccolo and piano (1983)
- Nachtlied for soprano, piano and tape (1984)
- Come Holy Ghost for choir (1984)
- Ricercare una Melodia for solo trumpet/cello/flute/oboe/trombone with tape delay system (1984)
- Song Offerings for soprano and chamber ensemble of 8 players (1985)
- Forms of Emptiness for choir (1986)
- God is our Refuge for choir and organ (1986)
- Madonna of Winter and Spring for orchestra, synthesizer and electronics (1986)
- Lauds for choir and solo cello (1987)
- From Silence for soprano, 6 players and tape (1988)
- String Quartet No. 2 (1988)
- Three Sketches for solo cello (1989)
- Ritual Melodies for quadrophonic tape (1989–90)
- Cello Concerto (1990)
- Fantasia for organ (1991)
- Serenade in Homage to Mozart for wind ensemble of 10 players (1991)
- Scena for violin and chamber ensemble of 9 players (1992)
- Lotuses for flute quartet (1992)
- You (1992)
- Chant for solo cello (or solo viola) (1992–94)
- The Riot for flute, piccolo, bass clarinet and piano (1993)
- One Evening... for soprano, mezzo, soprano, chamber ensemble of 8 players, 2 technicians and electronics (1993–94)
- The Angels for choir (1994)
- Tombeau de Messiaen for piano and tape (1994)
- Advaya for cello, electronic keyboard and electronics (1994)
- Dum Transisset Sabbatum for choir (1995)
- String Quartet No. 3 (1995)
- Percussion Concerto (1997)
- Sufi Dance for solo guitar (1997)
- Wheel of Emptiness for chamber ensemble of 16 players (1997)
- Ashes Dance Back for choir and electronics (1997)
- Death of Light/Light of Death for chamber ensemble of 5 players after Grunewald's Crucifixion in the Isenheim Altarpiece (1998)
- Tranquil Abiding for chamber orchestra (1998)
- Valley of Aosta for 13 players and electronics (1998)
- Marahi for unaccompanied choir (1999)
- The Summer Cloud's Awakening for choir, flute, cello and electronics (2001)
- Vers for piano (2000)
- Jubilus for viola and chamber ensemble (2003)
- String Quartet No. 4 with live electronics (2003)
- String Trio (2004)
- Body Mandala for orchestra (2006)
- Wagner Dream, opera (2007)
- Other Presences for trumpet and electronics (2008)
- Imaginings for cello and live electronics
- Philia's Dream for cello and synthesizer
- Weltethos for speaker, choir, children's chorus and orchestra (2011), commissioned by the Berliner Philharmoniker