After initial musical training acquired as a chorister at St. Michael's College in Tenbury, Jonathan Harvey studied music at the Universities of Glasgow and Cambridge. On Benjamin Britten’s advice, he studied composition with Erwin Stein and Hans Keller, both pupils of Schoenberg, who taught him the dodecaphonic technique. Two figures shaped his aesthetic development: Milton Babbitt taught him how to use new technologies to explore sound, while Karlheinz Stockhausen demonstrated the possibilities of studios and the techniques used. Jonathan Harvey was also deeply marked by Stockhausen's need to draw together the rational and the mystic, science and intuition. In the early 1980s, Jonathan Harvey was invited by Pierre Boulez to work at his electro-acoustic research institute, IRCAM. He produced several important works there and familiarised himself with the spectral current.
Jonathan Harvey's work spans every genre: music for a capella choir, full orchestra, chamber orchestra, ensemble and solo instrument. He is considered one of the most imaginative composers of electoacoustic music. Moreover, he sees electronic sound as an opening towards the transcendental and spiritual dimensions.
Jonathan Harvey received commissions from all over the world and today is one of the most frequently-performed composers. His pieces are performed by Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Asko Ensemble, Nieuw Ensemble (Amsterdam) and Ensemble Ictus (Brussels) in festivals such as Musica (Strasbourg), Ars Musica (Brussels), Musica Nova (Helsinki), Acanthes, Agora and in numerous contemporary music centres. Nearly 200 performances of his works are presented live or broadcast every year, and around 80 recordings are available on CD.
Jonathan Harvey published two books in 1999 on inspiration and spirituality. He received the highest distinctions in contemporary creation circles around the world. He taught at the University of Sussex, Stanford University (USA) and Imperial College London, among others.
Six landmark dates in the life of Jonathan Harvey:
1970: met Milton Babbitt at Princeton University
1975: published a book on the work of Stockhausen
1980: composer-in-residence at IRCAM at the invitation of Pierre Boulez
1999: published two books on inspiration and spirituality
2005-2008: residency at the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
2007: received the Gigahertz Prize for a lifetime's work in electronic music
Six key works by Jonathan Harvey:
1980: Mortuos Plango, Vivis Voco, electronic work for tape
1986: Madonna of Winter and Spring for orchestra, synthesizer and electronics
2004: Moving Speeds, semi-improvisation for around 7 wind instruments and 7 string instruments
2007: Wagner Dream, opera
2008: Speakings for large orchestra and electronics
2012: Cirrus Light for solo clarinet