LONDON — Jonathan Harvey, a British modernist composer whose operas and other works reflected a deep engagement with spirituality, has died at age 73.
Faber Music, which published many of Harvey’s compositions, said he died Tuesday. He had suffered from motor neuron disease.
“The spirituality of his music also pervaded his personality. No one who met him came away without commenting on his gentleness, generosity and breadth of imagination,” said Sally Cavender, vice chairman of Faber Music.
Harvey developed his style in the 1980s working at Pierre Boulez’s Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics and Music in Paris. Fruits of that work included “Mortuous Plango, Vivos Voco,” an experimental composition using eight-track tape to contrast the tenor bell at Winchester Cathedral and the voice of his son, and his fourth string quartet featuring live electronics.
Harvey’s compositions have been featured at the BBC Proms in London and the BBC Scottish Symphony. His operas include “Inquest of Love” for the English National Opera and “Wagner Dream” for the Dutch Opera.
One of his last works was “Weltethos” for orchestra and chorus, which celebrated Buddhism, Confucianism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity. It had its premiere performance at the Berlin Philharmonic last year.
He also wrote more conventional choral music for Christian worship, including “Remember Oh Lord” which was performed in Westminster Abbey at a celebration for the 50th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
“I’d like music to speak of, to herald and to prophesy a better world, less entangled with personal egoistic emotions,” Harvey said in a 1999 interview for Classic CD magazine.
Harvey was inspired to become a composer as an 11-year-old singer at St. Michael’s choir school in Worcestershire. “I knew I had to be a composer” after hearing a bit of “really wild” organ music, he said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph in 2009.
It was there, he added, that he became “hooked on the beauty and strangeness of religion,” leading to his eventual embrace of Buddhism.
As an aspiring composer, he was encouraged by Benjamin Britten but Harvey found a bigger inspiration in the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen.
In 1966, Harvey traveled to Germany to meet Stockhausen and was deeply impressed by what he heard.
“This was like another planet. Music was never like this that I had heard before,” he said in an interview with English music journalist Bob Shingleton in 2010. “There was a kind of release from conventional time.”
Harvey won a fellowship in 1969 to study at Princeton, where he worked with Milton Babbitt. He was professor of music at Sussex University between 1977 and 1993, and held a similar post at Stanford University between 1995 and 2000.
In 2009, Harvey became the first British composer to win the Charles Cros Grand Prix du Président de la République for lifetime achievement, an honor previously bestowed on Boulez, French composer Olivier Messiaen and the American Elliott Carter.
He is survived by his wife and their son and daughter. Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.