Brian Ferneyhough

(b. 16 January 1943, Coventry, West Midlands).

British composer, now resident in the USA, of mostly orchestral, chamber, choral, vocal, and piano works that have been performed throughout the world.

Prof. Ferneyhough received his formal training at the Birmingham Conservatoire from 1961–63 and studied composition with Sir Lennox Berkeley at the Royal Academy of Music in London in 1966–67. He then studied composition privately with Ton de Leeuw in Amsterdam in 1968–69 and with Klaus Huber at the Musik-Akademie der Stadt Basel from 1969–71.

Among his honours are the Mendelssohn Scholarship (1968), three prizes in the competition of the Internationale Gaudeamus Muziekweek in Amsterdam (1968–70), an honourable mention in the competition of the section in Italy of ISCM (1972), and a special prize from ISCM for the best work submitted in all categories (1974). He has also received a bursary from the Experimentalstudio des SWR in Freiburg im Breisgau (1974–75), an award from the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (1976–77) and the Koussevitzky International Critics Award (1978, for the recording of Transit on Decca Records). He was given the title Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the government of France in 1984, was named an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music in 1990 and served as a fellow of the Birmingham Conservatoire in 1995 and of the Royal Academy of Music in 1998. In addition, he received the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award for Chamber-Scale Composition (1995, for On Stellar Magnitudes), was elected to the Akademie der Künste in Berlin in 1996 and received the Ernst von Siemens Musikpreis (2007, for his œuvre). He is the subject of the monograph Brian Ferneyhough by Lois Fitch (2013, Intellect).

He is also active in other positions. He has written numerous articles for publications on contemporary music, many of which appear in Collected Writings (1995, edited by James Boros and Richard Toop, Harwood Academic Publishers). He has served as a member of the editorial board of the journal Perspectives of New Music since 1995.

He taught composition at the Hochschule für Musik Freiburg in Freiburg im Breisgau from 1973–86 and regularly gave masterclasses at the Civica Scuola di Musica in Milan from 1984–87. He then taught as the principal teacher of composition at the Koninklijk Conservatorium in Den Haag in 1986–87 and as Professor of Music at the University of California, San Diego from 1987–2000. He then taught composition as the William H. Bonsall Professor in Music at Stanford University from 2000–18. He has given classes and lectures at the Ferienkurse in Darmstadt since 1976 and served as coordinator of its course in composition from 1984–94. Moreover, he has directed the courses in composition Voix Nouvelles at the Fondation Royaumont since 1990 and has taught at IRCAM in Paris since 1993. He has held guest professorships at Harvard University, the Kungliga Musikhögskolan – Royal College of Music in Stockholm and the University of Chicago.

He has lived in the USA since 1987.

His publisher is Edition Peters.


E-mail address:



Shadowtime (scenic action/opera, libretto by Charles Bernstein), high soprano, soprano, alto, falsetto baritone, baritone, speaker, 12 mixed voices, guitar, piano, small orchestra (18 players), fixed media, 1999–2004 (its seven scenes may be performed separately as concert works: New Angels/Transient Failure; Les Froissements des Ailes de Gabriel; The Doctrine of Similarity; Opus Contra Naturam; Eleven 'Interrogatory Instances'; Seven 'Tableaux Vivants' depicting the Angel of History as Melancholia; Stelæ for Failed Time)


Epicycle, 20 strings, 1968

Firecycle Beta (symphonic torso), 2 pianos, 2 ensembles (harp, cimbalom, amplified viola, amplified cello, amplified double bass, electronic organ, timpani, 3 percussion; harp, amplified guitar, amplified viola, amplified cello, amplified double bass, harpsichord [+ celesta], timpani, 3 percussion), 2 groups of strings (30 strings each) (with conductor, 4 subconductors), 1969–71

La Terre est un homme, large orchestra (89 or more players), 1976–79

Carceri d'Invenzione I, small orchestra (16 players), 1982

Carceri d'Invenzione II, flute, small orchestra (2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bassoon, 2 French horns, 13 strings), 1983–85

Carceri d'Invenzione III, small orchestra (18 players), 1985–86

Plötzlichkeit (vocalise), soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto, large orchestra, 2005–06

Chronos-Aion, small orchestra (18 players), 2008–09

Inconjunctions, small orchestra, 2014


Sonatina, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet/bassoon, 1963

Four Miniatures, flute, piano, 1965

Prometheus, flute (+ piccolo), oboe, English horn, clarinet (+ E-flat clarinet), bassoon, French horn, 1965, revised 1967

Coloratura, oboe, piano, 1966

Sonatas for String Quartet, string quartet, 1965–67

Cassandra's Dream Song, flute, 1970

Time and Motion Study II, amplified cello, live electronics, 1973–76

Unity Capsule, flute, 1973–76

Time and Motion Study I, bass clarinet, 1971–77

Funérailles I–II, harp (+ percussion), 2 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos, double bass, 1969–80

Second String Quartet, string quartet, 1979–80

Superscriptio – Carceri d'Invenzione I, piccolo, 1981

Adagissimo, string quartet, 1983

Carceri d'Invenzione IIb, flute, 1984 (also version by Tosiya Suzuki as Carceri d'Invenzione IId, recorder, 1997)

Intermedio alla ciaccona – Carceri d'Invenzione III, violin, 1986

Mnemosyne – Carceri d'Invenzione VII, bass flute, fixed media, 1986 (also version for 9 bass flutes, 1986)

Third String Quartet, string quartet, 1986–87

Carceri d'Invenzione IIc, flute, fixed media, 1987

Fanfare for Klaus Huber, 2 percussion, 1987

La Chute d'Icare, clarinet, ensemble (flute [+ piccolo, alto flute, bass flute], oboe [+ English horn], violin, cello, double bass, piano, percussion), 1988

Kurze Schatten II, guitar, 1983–89

Trittico per G. S., double bass, 1989

Mort subite, piccolo, clarinet, piano, vibraphone, click tracks, 1990

Bone Alphabet, percussion, 1991

Terrain, violin, ensemble (flute [+ piccolo], oboe [+ English horn], clarinet [+ bass clarinet], bassoon, French horn, trumpet, trombone, double bass), 1991–92

Streichtrio, violin, viola, cello, 1994

String Trio, violin, viola, cello, 1995

Incipits, viola, percussion obbligato, ensemble (piccolo [+ bass flute], E-flat clarinet [+ bass clarinet], 2 violins, cello, double bass), 1996

Allgebrah, oboe, ensemble (4 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos, double bass), 1996

Flurries, piccolo, clarinet, French horn, violin, cello, piano, 1997–98

Unsichtbare Farben, violin, 1997–99

Les Froissements des Ailes de Gabriel, guitar, ensemble (flute [+ piccolo, bass flute], oboe [+ piccolo oboe, English horn], clarinet [+ E-flat clarinet], bass clarinet [+ contrabass clarinet], French horn, trumpet [+ soprano trombone], trombone [+ bass trumpet], harp, guitar, violin, cello, piano, percussion), 2003–04 (scene 2 of Shadowtime; may be performed separately as a concert work)

No Time (at all), 2 guitars (2nd tuned a quarter-tone lower), 2005

Fifth String Quartet, string quartet, 2003–06

Sisyphus redux, alto flute, 2008

Exordium (Elliotti Carteri in honorem centenarii), string quartet, 2008

Renvoi/Shards, quarter-tone guitar, quarter-tone vibraphone, 2008

Sixth String Quartet, string quartet, 2010

Liber Scintillarum, flute, oboe, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, 2011–12

Schatten aus Wasser und Stein, quarter-tone oboe, string quartet, 2013

Silentium, string quartet, 2013

Umbrations. The Tye Cycle, 2001–17 (nine of its twelve sections may be performed separately: In Nomine a 3, piccolo, oboe, clarinet, 2001; O Lux, flute [+ piccolo], oboe, clarinet, French horn, trombone, 2 violins, viola, cello, double bass, 2006; Dum transisset I–IV, string quartet, 2006–07; Lawdes Deo, piano, percussion, 2017; In Nomine, cello, 2017; In Nomine a 12, 12 players, 2017)


Marian Motets, 2 sopranos, 8 mixed voices, 1966, revised 2002 (its two sections may be performed separately: Ave mater gloriosa salvatoris; Alma redemptoris mater)

Missa Brevis, 12 mixed voices, 1969

Time and Motion Study III, 16 mixed voices, percussion, live electronics, 1974

Transit, 6 amplified mixed voices (soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass), amplified trio (flute [+ piccolo, alto flute, bass flute], oboe [+ oboe d'amore, English horn], clarinet [+ E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet]), orchestra (3 French horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tenor tuba, bass tuba, 2 harps, electric guitar, cimbalom, 3 percussion, piano 4 hands [+ amplified harpsichord, celesta], 3 violins, 3 violas, 6 cellos, 4 double basses), 1972–75

The Doctrine of Similarity, 12/48 mixed voices, clarinet, bass clarinet (+ E-flat clarinet), contrabass clarinet (+ clarinet), violin, piano, percussion/2 percussion, 1999–2000 (scene 3 of Shadowtime; may be performed separately as a concert work)

Stelæ for Failed Time, 12 mixed voices, fixed media, 2001 (scene 7 of Shadowtime; may be performed separately as a concert work)

New Angels/Transient Failure, high soprano, soprano, alto, falsetto baritone, baritone, 12 mixed voices, small orchestra (18 players), 2001–02 (scene 1 of Shadowtime; may be performed separately as a concert work)

Eleven 'Interrogatory Instances', baritone, 12 mixed voices, small orchestra (18 players), 2003–04 (scene 5 of Shadowtime; may be performed separately as a concert work)

Finis Terræ, 6 amplified mixed voices (2 sopranos, alto, 2 tenors, bass), small orchestra (18 players), 2012


Études Transcendantales (texts by Ernst Meister, Alrun Moll), soprano (+ claves), flute (+ piccolo, alto flute), oboe (+ English horn), cello, harpsichord, 1982–85

Fourth String Quartet (text by Jackson Mac Low), soprano, string quartet, 1987–90

On Stellar Magnitudes (text by the composer), mezzo-soprano, flute (+ piccolo), clarinet (+ bass clarinet), violin, cello, piano, 1994

Seven 'Tableaux Vivants' depicting the Angel of History as Melancholia, speaker, small orchestra (15 players), 2003 (scene 6 of Shadowtime; may be performed separately as a concert work)


Invention, 1965

Epigrams, 1966

Sonata for Two Pianos, 2 pianos, 1966

Three Pieces, 1966–67

Lemma-Icon-Epigram, 1981

Opus Contra Naturam (pianist also speaks), 1999–2000 (scene 4 of Shadowtime; may be performed separately as a concert work)

Quirl, 2011–13


Sieben Sterne, organ (with assistant), 1969–70