A tolling bell with his own notes for composer Jonathan Harvey

Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012)

I was sad to hear of the death, from motor neurone disease, of modern British composer Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012). He lived nearby and had been professor of music down the road at Sussex University. He will be remembered, of course, as one of Britain’s most accessible avant garde composers.

I never met him but will remember him as one of the composers, along with Karlheinz Stockhausen, who introduced me to the majesty, power and beauty of electronic classical music – a style too often shirked by classical music lovers.

Listen to his Mortuous Plago Vivos Voco (1980) and you might agree. This piece is constructed from recordings of the tenor bell in Winchester Cathedral and the singing of the composer’s young treble son who was a chorister there in 1980. Harvey uses the latin inscription on the bell as his starting point for a work steeped in his Buddhism but also born from his Anglican boyhood:
Horas Avolantes Numero, Mortuos Plango: Vivos ad Preces Voco –   I count the fleeting hours, I lament the dead: the living I call to prayer.

It is a suitable piece to mark his passing:


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