1973, 1983, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, Music

Knussen: Horn Concerto, Whitman Settings, The Way to Castle Yonder, Flourish with Fireworks (1996) by Various Artists

This is a collection of Knussen’s orchestral music.

Flourish for Fireworks starts out feeling really appropriately titled – you can visualize the fireworks in your mind – but the middle of it feels perhaps a little too subtle. I don’t know.

The Way to Castle Yonder is a suite of brief orchestral passages that definitely feel like they could have paintings or brief videos attached to them. Knussen has a way of conjuring images that is, for me, relatively rare among contemporary composers. This is so vivid it feels like incidental music and I guess that’s a problem as well as a good thing. But I like it.

2 Organa is a really brief set of two chamber pieces. It’s so brief it’s really hard for me to take super seriously even though I like the music I hear.

Every traditional form of music Knussen takes on, he seems to take on briefly. Such as the case with his horn concerto, which is in four movements but last just over 12 minutes total. I have no idea why he does this and I also don’t know why it bothers me. After all, if you can say something in prose in shorter sentences you should. So why not in music?

The intro is pretty bonkers for how it feels like an entrance to a mysterious place or something, rather than the intro to a concerto. But the horn comes in about 45 seconds in and it begins to sort of resemble a concerto (though not a traditional one).

And the rest of the movements follow that theme, with Knussen’s typically impressionistic and basically filmic writing dueling out with, what sounds to my ears, not a particularly virtuoso horn part but one that conjures images. It’s a neat piece.

Music for a Puppet Court is an earlier piece of Knussen’s that I think he overhauled a decade later. The opening movement lacks the vivid imagery of his later attempts at music like this, but that issue is solved by the second movement. I’m not sure this is as successful as his other music that conjures images, even with the rewrite, but it’s still interesting enough.

Whitman Settings is the orchestral version of four Whitman poems Knussen set to his typically colourful music. The vocals are acrobatic to the point of me not being able to hear the words so I do not know whether or not they make sense with the poetry. But I appreciate the music, as it’s typically full of ideas. Would like to hear the piano version at some point.

…upon one note is a piece based on something of Purcell’s. It’s incredibly brief and so feels pretty inconsequential.  Because I don’t know the piece Knussen is referencing, I am in the dark as to how this works as a comment. Meh.

Though it’s a compilation, this collection is mostly a good overview of some of Knussen’s brief orchestral settings. But both the horn concerto and the song cycle feel out of place.


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