Brian Ferneyhough (born 16 January 1943 in Coventry) is a British composer.
Ferneyhough was awarded the Mendelssohn Scholarship in 1968 and moved to Europe to study with Ton de Leeuw in Amsterdam, and later with Klaus Huber in Basel. As of 2004, he is William H. Bonsall Professor in Music at Stanford University.
Ferneyhough became closely associated with the so-called "New Complexity" school of composition, characterised by its extension of the modernist tendency towards formalisation (particularly as in integral serialism). Ferneyhough's actual compositional approach, however, rejects serialism and other "generative" methods of composing; he prefers instead to use systems only to create material and formal constraints, while their realisation appears to be more spontaneous. Unlike many more formally-inclined composers, Ferneyhough often speaks of his music as being about creating energy and excitement rather than embodying an abstract schema.
His scores make huge technical demands on performers -- sometimes, as in the case of Unity Capsule for solo flute, creating parts that are so detailed they are literally impossible to realise completely. Contrary to the widespread belief that Ferneyhough is merely attempting to tie down interpretative possibilities by stipulating everything with such precision, the purpose here is to give the performer creative freedom in deciding which aspects to focus on, which elements may be omitted and so on. As he acknowledges, numerous performers have refused to take his works into their repertoire because of the great commitment required to learn them and a perception that similar effects can be achieved through improvisation. The compositions have, however, attracted a number of advocates, among them the Arditti quartet and the members of the Nieuw Ensemble.
One of his latest works, an opera, Shadowtime, based on the life of the German philosopher Walter Benjamin, was premiered in Munich on 25th May 2004.
Works by Ferneyhough include:
Unity Capsule for solo flute (1973-76)
Cassandra's Dream Song for solo flute (1973-76)
La chute d'Icare for clarinet and chamber orchestra (1988)
Opus Contra Naturam (1998-99)
In Nomine à 3 (2001)
Time and Motion Study I for solo bass clarinet
Time and Motion Study II for cello and electronics
A volume of Ferneyhough's articles and interviews has been collected which, despite his sometimes obfuscatory style, is invaluable in understanding his very dense, initially inaccessible works.