Unconfirmed news just in, without corroboration, that Oliver Knussen is no longer with us. A shock, as he was awarded another honorary doctorate from the Royal Academy of Music on Friday. So I hope and pray it isn't true. Ollie is a phenomenom - more than a composer, conductor, teacher - an all-round inspirational figure who makes things happen. A monumental figure, in every way.
So, to quote his Songs for Sue "Is it true, dear Sue....." The question is followed by silence, as if
an answer were expected, but we know it will never come. It’s poignant without being maudlin. With shrill staccato, the piece opens, xpressing tension, but the orchestration flows tenderly, in circular figures towards a kind of calm stasis. The rounded figures felt like abstract depictions of an embrace. This image reflects too in the intimate instrument doublings. This isn't so much a group of separate songs as a curving arc of sound and feeling. Silences, here too, are part of the structure, like white spaces in a watercolour, extending the music into the imagination. As a meditation on someone loved who has passed beyond the physical, these voids are not empty, but charged with memory.Indeed, there is an almost Ligeti-like stillness in the orchestration,the unadorned vocal line subtly enhanced by hollow, metallic and otherworldly sounds which express a sense of desolation. The poem, by Emily Dickinson, is full of corny lines like “as quiet as the Dew – she dropt as softly as a star”, but Knussen shapes the line with dignity.
I cannot believe, I do not want to believe. So if it isn't true, at least Ollie will know how much he is loved. There is more on this site about Ollie and the music he loved than in most places, so please follow the labels below for more