Brian Ferneyhough was born in Coventry in 1943. He received formal musical training at the Birmingham School of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, London. In 1968 he was awarded the Mendelssohn Scholarship, which enabled him to continue his studies in Amsterdam with Ton de Leeuw, and the following year obtained a scholarship to study with Klaus Huber at the Basel Conservatoire.
Following Ferneyhough’s move to mainland Europe, his music began to receive much wider recognition: the Gaudeamus Composers’ Competition in Holland awarded Ferneyhough prizes in three successive years (1968–70) for his Sonatas for String Quartet, Epicycle and Missa Brevis. The Italian section of the ISCM at its 1972 competition gave Ferneyhough an honorable mention (second place) for Firecycle Beta and two years later a special prize for Time and Motion Study III which was considered the best work submitted in all categories
Ferneyhough has taught composition at the Musikhochschule in Freiburg, the Civica Scuola di Musica, Milan, the Royal Conservatoire of The Hague and the University of California, San Diego. In January 2000 Ferneyhough joined the faculty at Stanford University and was named William H. Bonsall Professor in Music there shortly afterwards.
Brian Ferneyhough’s opera, Shadowtime, based on the life and work of philosopher Walter Benjamin, was premièred in 2004 at the Munich Biennale to great acclaim, and subsequently released on NMC.
Recent work has included a Fifth String Quartet, written for the Arditti String Quartet (Witten, 2005), a new orchestral work, Plötzlichkeit (Donaueschingen, 2006), and Chronos Aion, premièred by the Ensemble Modern in 2008.