Oliver Knussen

Biography

Born: June 12, 1952; Glasgow, Scotland  
Oliver Knussen's composing and conducting careers began with early successes, and he has continued to be active in both fields since. His early compositions were influenced by the Russian and American traditions of orchestral writing. A large proportion of these early pieces were also composed with twelve-tone and serial techniques. His later music uses detailed harmonic and rhythmic structures to create complex but clearly defined textures, with Read more fine orchestral color. In all of his work, an accessible sound world is united with highly thought-out structural details.

Knussen was born into a musical family and as a child spent time at London Symphony Orchestra rehearsals, where his father was principal double bass. Oliver was thrown into prominence early in life, when at the age of 15 his First Symphony was performed in London. His precocity as a conductor was demonstrated at the same time when the illness of the scheduled conductor forced Knussen onto the podium. Two weeks later the work was performed in New York under Daniel Barenboim.

Knussen's first composition teacher was John Lambert, a student of Nadia Boulanger, and then from 1970 to 1973 he studied with Gunther Schuller in Tanglewood and Boston. Schuller's influence is evident in the expressionist character of the Second Symphony (1970-1971), which sets verses by the poets Georg Trakl and Sylvia Plath. Other influences in this period appear in the Concerto for Orchestra (1970) that incorporates jazz and the Charleston.

After the spotlight on Knussen receded, rumors abounded that his success was not entirely based on merit, and performances dwindled. He himself felt that early exposure was a mixed blessing and that the smaller pieces he wrote at the time of the First Symphony were more interesting. This trend was evident in his chamber pieces of the 1970s, which were slightly more radical than the larger symphonies, notably Coursing (1979) for chamber orchestra.

In the early '80s, Knussen's compositional energies were concentrated on two large scale projects which he termed fantasy operas, settings of children's books by Maurice Sendak, who became the librettist: Where the Wild Things Are (1979-1983), and Higgledy Piggledy Pop (1984-1990). These works use varied compositional resources, including layers of contrasting rhythms (polyrhythms) and very subtle orchestral colors, to create a range of refined textures. Many styles are also present, from jazz to Mozart references.

Shortly afterwards, the composer became attracted to music on a more miniature time frame, for example in the orchestral Flourish with Fireworks (1988). This work is in a line of pieces which use subtle references to the works of older composers. The Whitman Settings, for soprano and orchestra, although originally composed for voice with piano in 1991, were written as the composer was attracted to four unusually short poems of Walt Whitman.

Knussen's conducting career has encompassed a wide-ranging repertoire, and he specializes in the works of contemporary composers. He has been the music director of the London Sinfonietta (an ensemble which also frequently perform his own music) and the artistic director of Aldeburgh Festival from 1992 to 1998. In that same period, he was principal guest conductor of the Residentie Orchestra, The Hague. In 1989 he was appointed associate guest conductor with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and from 1986-1990 was the coordinator of contemporary music activities at the Tanglewood Music Centre. He was named a commander of the British Empire in 1994 and the following year signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon to record contemporary music; many of those albums have won awards. Read less

There are 19 Oliver Knussen recordings available.

Select a specific Work or Popular Work below

or

Works

Oliver Knussen


MOST POPULAR WORKS
Intrada
- Fantastico
- Cadenza
- Envoi
I. Recitative
II. Aria
III. Gigue
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983), I. Aphorisms: i. Inscription
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983), I. Aphorisms: ii. Hum
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983), I. Aphorisms: iii. The Hundred Acre Wood (Nocturne) - Piglet meets a Heffalump
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983), I. Aphorisms: iv. Hum, continued, and Little Nonsense Song
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983), I. Aphorisms: v. Hum (instrumental)
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983), I. Aphorisms: vi. Vocalise (Climbing the tree)
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983), I. Aphorisms: vii. Codetta
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983): II. Bee Piece and Cadenza (The Fall of Pooh)
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983): III. Cloud Piece
Four Late Poems and an Epigram of Rainer Maria Rilke Op. 23 (1988): epigram - I. Idol
Four Late Poems and an Epigram of Rainer Maria Rilke Op. 23 (1988): replica - II. Gravity
Four Late Poems and an Epigram of Rainer Maria Rilke Op. 23 (1988): double - III. Imaginary Life
Four Late Poems and an Epigram of Rainer Maria Rilke Op. 23 (1988): IV. Gong
1. Puzzle I "Iste tenor ascendit".
2. Toyshop Music after "tris".
3. Antiphon after "Iste tenor ascendit...".
4. Puzzle II "tris".
The Journey to The Big White House
- Kleine Trauermusik
- The Ride to Castle Yonder
1. Notre Dame des Jouets
2. Organum to honour the 20th anniversary of the Schoenberg Ensemble
Variations Op. 24 (1989): I
Variations Op. 24 (1989): II
Variations Op. 24 (1989): III
Variations Op. 24 (1989): IV
Variations Op. 24 (1989): V
Variations Op. 24 (1989): VI
Variations Op. 24 (1989): VII
Variations Op. 24 (1989): VIII
Variations Op. 24 (1989): IX
Variations Op. 24 (1989): X
Variations Op. 24 (1989): XI
Variations Op. 24 (1989): XII
Overture
Max - Scherzino: "I'm Max! (Max)
Mama - Scherzo A "Sshh! Sshh!" (Max, Mama)
Scherzo A: Reprise
Max's Room - Pantom./Ariette 1:"In the wildest woods" (Max)
Transformation/Arietta 2: "I jump and bump" (Max)
Sea Interlude
The Wild Things - Recit/Musica interna "It must be" (Max, Wild Things)
Coronation: "... Eat you up" (Wild Things, Max)
The Wild Rumpus: "Now stop!" (Max, Wild Things)
Max alone: "I dreamed that once" (Max)
Parting: "Fe...! Oh please don't go" (Wild Things)
Second Sea Interlude - "I was very far to" (Max, Mama)
Max's Room (Max)
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983): III. Cloud Piece
Variations Op. 24 (1989): I
Variations Op. 24 (1989): II
Variations Op. 24 (1989): III
1. When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer
2. A Noiseless Patient Spider
3. The Dalliance of the Eagles
4. The Voice of the Rain
WORKS
Intrada
- Fantastico
- Cadenza
- Envoi
I. Recitative
II. Aria
III. Gigue
Why am I longing (Jennie, Potted Plant)
You have two windows (Potted Plant, Jennie)
Hello little Lady (Pig, Jennie)
Change of scene - "If I could eat experience" (Jennie)
You must be going to (Cat, Jennie)
Interlude 1: The Journey to the Big White House
Thank you very much for the ride (Jennie, Cat, Rhoda)
Are you all right, Miss? (Rhoda, Jennie)
Baby, here is Nurse (Rhoda, Jennie)
Yum, yum (Jennie, Baby)
Who can help me? (Jennie, Baby's Mother)
How black it is (Jennie, Lion, Baby)
Quiet in there! (Jenny, Baby, Lion)
Now I have nothing (Jennie, Ash-Tree)
Adagio: A little meditation
Jennie! Jennie! (Rhoda, Cat, Pig, Jennie, Mother Goose, Lion)
Interlude 2. The Ride to Castle Yonder
Hello, as you probably noticed (Jennie)
Fanfare I - Higglety. Scene 1 - Rhyme 1 (Rhoda, Jennie, Cat, Pig, Lion)
Fanfare II - Higglety. Scene 2 - Rhyme 2 (Rhoda, Jennie, Cat, Pig, Lion)
Higglety. Scene 3 - Rhyme 3 (Rhoda, Jennie, Cat, Pig)
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983), I. Aphorisms: i. Inscription
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983), I. Aphorisms: ii. Hum
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983), I. Aphorisms: iii. The Hundred Acre Wood (Nocturne) - Piglet meets a Heffalump
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983), I. Aphorisms: iv. Hum, continued, and Little Nonsense Song
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983), I. Aphorisms: v. Hum (instrumental)
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983), I. Aphorisms: vi. Vocalise (Climbing the tree)
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983), I. Aphorisms: vii. Codetta
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983): II. Bee Piece and Cadenza (The Fall of Pooh)
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983): III. Cloud Piece
Four Late Poems and an Epigram of Rainer Maria Rilke Op. 23 (1988): epigram - I. Idol
Four Late Poems and an Epigram of Rainer Maria Rilke Op. 23 (1988): replica - II. Gravity
Four Late Poems and an Epigram of Rainer Maria Rilke Op. 23 (1988): double - III. Imaginary Life
Four Late Poems and an Epigram of Rainer Maria Rilke Op. 23 (1988): IV. Gong
1. Puzzle I "Iste tenor ascendit".
2. Toyshop Music after "tris".
3. Antiphon after "Iste tenor ascendit...".
4. Puzzle II "tris".
Océan de terre Op. 10 (1972-3, rev. 1976): I. Misurato -
Océan de terre Op. 10 (1972-3, rev. 1976): II. Scherzo (Vivace - Calmo - Quasi vivace) -
Océan de terre Op. 10 (1972-3, rev. 1976): III. Adagio
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983), I. Aphorisms: v. Hum (instrumental)
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983), I. Aphorisms: vi. Vocalise (Climbing the tree)
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983), I. Aphorisms: vii. Codetta
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983): II. Bee Piece and Cadenza (The Fall of Pooh)
I. Allegro - Scuro - Spettrale
Die Ratten': Adagio - II. Scorrevole
III. 'Edge': Lentissimo
A tempo - IV. 'An die Schwester': Andante
Andante misterioso - Fantastico -
Allegro con fuoco -
Molto tranquillo
The Journey to The Big White House
- Kleine Trauermusik
- The Ride to Castle Yonder
1. Notre Dame des Jouets
2. Organum to honour the 20th anniversary of the Schoenberg Ensemble
Variations Op. 24 (1989): I
Variations Op. 24 (1989): II
Variations Op. 24 (1989): III
Variations Op. 24 (1989): IV
Variations Op. 24 (1989): V
Variations Op. 24 (1989): VI
Variations Op. 24 (1989): VII
Variations Op. 24 (1989): VIII
Variations Op. 24 (1989): IX
Variations Op. 24 (1989): X
Variations Op. 24 (1989): XI
Variations Op. 24 (1989): XII
Overture
Max - Scherzino: "I'm Max! (Max)
Mama - Scherzo A "Sshh! Sshh!" (Max, Mama)
Scherzo A: Reprise
Max's Room - Pantom./Ariette 1:"In the wildest woods" (Max)
Transformation/Arietta 2: "I jump and bump" (Max)
Sea Interlude
The Wild Things - Recit/Musica interna "It must be" (Max, Wild Things)
Coronation: "... Eat you up" (Wild Things, Max)
The Wild Rumpus: "Now stop!" (Max, Wild Things)
Max alone: "I dreamed that once" (Max)
Parting: "Fe...! Oh please don't go" (Wild Things)
Second Sea Interlude - "I was very far to" (Max, Mama)
Max's Room (Max)
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh Op. 6 (1970/1983): III. Cloud Piece
Variations Op. 24 (1989): I
Variations Op. 24 (1989): II
Variations Op. 24 (1989): III
1. When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer
2. A Noiseless Patient Spider
3. The Dalliance of the Eagles
4. The Voice of the Rain


YOU MUST BE A SUBSCRIBER TO LISTEN TO ARKIVMUSIC STREAMING.
TRY IT NOW FOR FREE!
Sign up now for two weeks of free access to the world's best classical music collection. Keep listening for only $19.95/month - thousands of classical albums for the price of one! Learn more about ArkivMusic Streaming
Already a subscriber? Sign In