Honorary Degree: Harrison Birtwistle

My goodness. Cambridge gave Harrison Birtwistle an honorary degree. Laudatio follows; translation over the fold.

artifex quondam ingenio fabrae artis celeberrimus carcerem inextricabilem aedificauit in quo reginae taurique progenies absconderetur. Daedalus, ut ait poeta,

ponit opus turbatque notas et lumina flexa
ducit in errorem uariarum ambage uiarum
.

nunc adstat Daedalus alter musicus, qui labyrinthum fecit non ut in latebris ageret Minotaurus, sed ut in scaenam produceretur. nunc adstat alter Naso, qui cuiusque aetatis fabellas enarrat: en prodit nunc gibber ille parricida cui nomen non minus quam nasum dedit pullus gallinaceus; iam temporis flumine refluente Orphea miramur iterum iterumque perire; iam cothurnis indutis regem magnum simiarum puellae alterius amore uix feliciore flagrare. operibus ingeniose factis ingeniose nomina imponit; et quis nostrum molis Cretensis non reminiscitur cum ille sua describit, aut cum audimus modos immutatos iterari duplicarique,

haud secus ac plateas necnon fora lata uiator
ambiguis lustrat gradibus repetitque petitque
cursus et cunctam peragrat pedis inscius urbem,
et nunc ad tectum, nunc ad loca uisa reuersus
illa recognoscit quae iam nouisse putabat
.

quod omnibus artificiis utatur quae recentioris aetatis ingenia produxerint, sunt qui uerum artis musicae iudicium sibi solis adrogantibus ea quae facit opera faciem haud minus immanem quam taurum Cnosium praebere iudicent. audire modo uellent! sed nec tamen qui Panos thorubo acclamabant eum exsibilare poterant, neque umquam haec uox singularis scit conticescere: ‘id quod possum facio,’ inquit. ‘nil est ultra.’

dignissime domine, Domine Cancellarie, et tota academia, praesento uobis Equitem Auratum inter Comites Honoratissimos adscriptum, Musices Regiae Academiae Sodalem, Collegi Regalis apud Londinienses in nomine Henrici Purcell Modos Faciendi Professorem Emeritum, HARRISON BIRTWISTLE, ut honoris causa habeat titulum gradus Doctoris in Musica.

A famous craftsman once built an inescapable prison to contain the offspring of a queen and a bull. Daedalus, says Ovid, “obscured all guiding marks and designed it to cheat the eye with bewildering patterns of tortuous alleys” [Metamorphoses viii 160–1, trans. Raeburn]. There stands before us a musical Daedalus, who built a labyrinth not to hide The Minotaur but to bring him forth on the stage. Or perhaps another Ovid, who retells the myths of many periods. Here we see the hunch-backed, beak-nosed murderer Punch step forward. Now as time flows back on itself we watch the death of Orpheus repeated again and again. Even the mighty Kong takes to the operatic stage and burns with tragic love for a second maiden. He gives his clever pieces cleverer names. And who can fail to think of the labyrinth when he describes his work, with its repeated and modified strains, as like ‘wandering through a town with squares, some more important than others, a town with roads on which you go round and round, in through one square out through another. You then come back again and approach from another angle, and so on.’ There are those—of limited vision all—who are as frightened by modernism as they would be by the very Minotaur. If only they would listen to our honorand! The self-styled Hecklers could not drown out his Panic at the Last Night of the Proms: so singular a voice cannot be silenced. For ‘I can only do one thing,’ he says, ‘and there is nothing else.’

Distinguished Chancellor, members of the University, I present to you Sir HARRISON BIRTWISTLE, CH, FRAM, composer, Henry Purcell Professor of Composition Emeritus, King’s College, London, that he may receive the title of the degree of Doctor of Music, honoris causa.

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