Sunday, February 09, 2003


Actor Ian McKellen was the guest on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ this week, and he chose an expectedly diverse and florid collection of music, from the late Beethoven Quartets and Barber to Abba, and from Lena Horne ('Stormy Weather') all the way to Harrison Birtwistle’s superb ‘Harrison’s Clocks’. I had forgotten just how much I love these wonderfully irregular keyboard cameos inspired by the legendary Greenwich timepieces. Peter Grahame Wolf sums it up well in his review on Len Mullenger’s excellent MusicWeb site:

“This is one of the most important piano works to have appeared towards the end of the 20th century. After Joanna MacGregor's exclusive rights expire, every aspiring new music pianist will tackle these five pieces, and they will take their place in the 2000 piano repertoire alongside the Ligeti studies, which seemed so impossible at first and are now standard repertoire.” © MusicWeb/Wolf

Wolf interviewed Birtwistle after the London premiere of the work five years ago. The complete score should be available from Boosey and Hawkes.

The CD of this work (SC004), together with snippets from the 1998 rehearsals on ‘Outside in Pianist’ (SC002) is usually available direct from MacGregor’s label SoundCircus. Having realised that it’s not actually in my collection – though I’ve heard it a number of times – I went to order at SC. According to the blurb it’s ‘not available’, but according to the order form it is. I’ll check this out further. ‘Harrison’s Clocks’ should most definitely not be in limbo…

Incidentally, 'Desert Island Discs' is still not on the Radio 4 Listen Again circuit. Must be a copyright issue.

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