Among his many compositions, he is best known for The Triumph Of Time and his operas including The Mask Of Orpheus, Gawain and The Minotaur.
A statement posted on his publisher’s website said: “Boosey & Hawkes and Rayfield Allied announce with deep sadness the death of Sir Harrison Birtwistle CH on 18 April 2022 at his home in Mere, UK, at the age of 87.”
Sir Harrison was born in Accrington, Lancashire, in 1934 and studied clarinet and composition at the Royal Manchester College of Music.
In 1960, he sold his clarinets to devote his efforts to composition and travelled to Princeton University in the US as a Harkness Fellow where he completed the opera Punch And Judy.
This work, together with Verses For Ensembles and The Triumph Of Time, established Sir Harrison as a leading voice in British music.
The music of Sir Harrison has attracted international conductors and been featured in major festivals and concert series in Europe, the USA and Japan.
In 1975, he became musical director of the newly established Royal National Theatre in London, a post he held until 1983.
Sir Harrison received many honours during his lifetime including a knighthood in 1988 and he was made Companion of Honour in 2001.
Leading musical institutions paid tribute to the composer including the Royal Philharmonic Society who said his “music shook the earth”.
It wrote on Twitter: “We pay tribute to a true musical colossus, the great Harrison Birtwistle, who has sadly died.
“A remarkable five-time RPS Award winner, his music shook the earth. There was force and potency in every note he wrote. We will listen in awe to his works for decades to come.”
The London Symphony Orchestra also paid their respects, saying: “Sad news to hear today that one of the greatest British composers, Harrison Birtwistle, has died.