Brian Ferneyhough

Dr Lois Fitch‘s book is the both the first in English on Brian Ferneyhough, and the first to address his entire compositional output to date, including substantial unpublished juvenilia to which the author is the only researcher to have been granted access.

Archival research was undertaken at the Paul Sacher Archive, Basel (which holds Ferneyhough’s sketch materials) as part of an AHRC funded Early Career Fellowship award towards the completion of the book.

The study contextualizes this controversial composer’s career for the first time, evaluating extant musicological and analytical literature on aspects of his work, particularly the debate surrounding his approach to notation, complexity, and the performer. Rather than take a strictly chronological approach to the oeuvre, the study groups discussion of works according to medium and theme (including chapters devoted to each of the multi-movement cycles composed to date).

This approach permits the mapping of major developments in Ferneyhough’s style onto particular types of works over large time-spans (e.g. comparing the approach to large orchestral writing in Firecycle Beta (1969–71) and Plötzlichkeit (2006)), while also accounting for significant stylistic contradictions that are typically ‘collapsed’ in discussions of Ferneyhough’s music that prioritize the issue of notational complexity as a general concept.

The final chapter evaluates key perspectives within Ferneyhough’s aesthetics, demonstrating their formative influence on even his most abstract compositional techniques. This leads to some unexpected conclusions: for example, the extent of Ferneyhough’s concern with image and representation (notwithstanding his statements to the contrary) challenges the typical critical view of the composer as arch-modernist rooted in a post-serial idiom.

It is hoped that this volume will move critical discourse on the composer away from well-worn tropes (notably that of notational complexity) and towards a more rounded appreciation of his importance as a creative figure and thinker.

Brian Ferneyhough is published by Intellect, Bristol and distributed by University of Chicago Press, 2013.

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