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date: 20 September 2019

Knussen, (Stuart) Oliverlocked

  • Julian Anderson

Extract

(b Glasgow, June 12, 1952). English composer and conductor. Born into a musical family (his father was principal double bass with the LSO) he started composing at the age of six. He studied composition with Lambert between 1963 and 1969, and then with Schuller at Tanglewood and in Boston.

Knussen first came to prominence when he conducted the première of his First Symphony at the age of 15. In both this work and the equally precocious Concerto for Orchestra (1968–70) he quickly and fluently absorbed the influences of Britten, Berg and mid-century (especially American) symphonists, displaying an unusual flair for both pacing and orchestration. His personal voice emerged fully with the Second Symphony (1970–71), a four-movement orchestral song cycle for voice and chamber orchestra setting Trakl and Plath. The haunted Expressionism of the poems is matched by a characteristically rich harmonic idiom which absorbs everything from complex chromaticism to consonant triadic formations within a serially derived scheme. The orchestral palette is clear and luminous within even the most densely layered polyrhythmic textures, a feature which has remained typical of Knussen's music. The Third Symphony (...

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