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Obituary: Professor Jonathan Harvey

Composer Jonathan Harvey, who was Professor of Music at Sussex from 1977-93, died in Lewes on Tuesday (4 December) at the age of 73.

Image of Jonathan HarveyProfessor Jonathan Harvey

An internationally renowned modern composer, Professor Harvey was noted for his interest in spirituality and for the imaginative use of electronics in his compositions. He also wrote orchestral, chamber and choral pieces. His works were performed all over the world by some of the finest contemporary music groups.

A chorister at St Michael's College, Tenbury, Harvey went on to be a music scholar at St John's College, Cambridge and he gained doctorates from the Universities of Cambridge and Glasgow.

He lectured at the University of Southampton for 13 years before joining Sussex in 1977 to teach composition.

Professor Harvey played a full part in the interdisciplinary ‘school’ teaching in the School of Cultural and Community Studies (as it was then). In conjunction with his musicology colleague of many years, the late Professor David Osmond-Smith, he cemented Sussex’s reputation as a centre for the study of contemporary music and its composition - a reputation it still holds to this day.

In 1993 his opera Inquest of Love received its premiere and he was awarded £10,000 as the winner of the prestigious Britten Award for Composition.

Professor Harvey left Sussex in 1993 to devote more time to composition. From 1995-2000, he was Professor of Music at Stanford University, California.

In 1999 the University was involved in several celebrations to mark the 60th birthday of Professor Harvey, who had remained an honorary Professor of Music at Sussex. Campus was the venue for the first recital in England by the Trio Fibonacci, who chose to play two of his pieces. And Sussex sponsored his opera, Passion and Resurrection, performed that year as part of the Brighton Festival and staged using local and professional singers in St Martin's Church in Lewes Road.

In 2000 Professor Harvey was “touched” to receive an honorary doctorate from Sussex: at a ceremony in the Brighton Centre, the University’s then Chancellor, Lord (Richard) Attenborough, conferred on him the award of Doctor of Music.

Looking back at his 18 years of teaching at Sussex, Professor Harvey said before the ceremony: “I came here from Southampton University and it was a liberation for me. Southampton was quite strict in its approach to music teaching. Here I was able to meet students from other disciplines and hear different ideas.”

In 2007 the Centre for Research in Opera and Music Theatre at Sussex held a study day on Professor Harvey's third opera, Wagner Dream.

More recently, in April 2010 he spoke about ‘symmetrical collaboration’ in the Sussex research seminar series on ‘Music and Collaboration’.

Fittingly, Professor Harvey presented his last paper at Sussex during the Royal Musical Association annual conference in July 2011, when he addressed the topic of ‘New horizons in composition and sonic media’ - horizons that his own music and research had done so much to open for so many.

Professor Harvey’s name will live on at Sussex: postgraduates on the University’s MA in Music and Sonic Media have access to the facilities in the Jonathan Harvey Electroacoustic Music Studio, named in honour of his pioneering work in electroacoustic music, much of which was undertaken at Sussex.

Dr Nicholas McKay, Head of the Music department, says: “Jonathan will be greatly missed by friends, former students and colleagues alike. He is fondly remembered as a wonderful teacher and mentor and an extraordinarily sensitive composer and human being.”