Music for a Puppet Court


by Oliver Knussen

Puzzle pieces for 2 chamber orchestras
Small Orchestra
2(I=picc+afl.II=picc).2.2.2 - 2000 - perc(2/3): 2 vib/t.bells/7 handbells/2 tgl/anvil/susp.cym/mcas/tam-t/whip/ratchet/guiro/alarm clock - cel - harp - gtr - strings (players
Commissioned by the Greater London Council for the 1983 South Bank Summer Music Festival
First Performance
23.8.83, Queen Elizabeth Hall: London Sinfonietta/Simon Rattle

Score 0-571-50865-0 on sale, parts for hire

Programme Notes

Commissioned by the Greater London Council for the 1983 South Bank Summer Music Festival. 1. Puzzle 1 (“Iste tenor ascendit”) 2. Toyshop Music (after “Tris”) 3. Antiphon (after “iste tenor ascendit”) 4. Intrada and Puzzle 2 (“Tris”) In 1972 I arranged two puzzle-canons, attributed to the sixteenth century English composer John Lloyd, for a small ensemble, and the following year added two short variations of my own. Music for a Puppet Court, completed in August 1983, is a recomposition and expansion of this material, scored for two antiphonally placed chamber orchestras. The Lloyd puzzle-canons were found in a court songbook dating from the early years of Henry VIII’s reign. The canti firmi (tenors) are not notated except for crossword-like clues – in one case, for example, the Greek word tris (thrice) followed by four descending notes. The missing cantus was found to consist of these four notes played 3 x 3 times in steadily accelerating note-lengths, from breves to quavers. The solutions were found and published in 1951 by John E. Stevens. The title Music for a Puppet Court is partly a reference to the historical origin of the puzzle-canons, and partly to the fanciful nature of the present instrumental settings. Orchestra 1 (left) centres around a celesta, a guitar, and 2 flutes; Orchestra 2 (right) around a harp and 2 clarinets. Each orchestra contains an assortment of winds, percussion and strings which sustain, amplify or echo music played by the “nucleii”.

© Oliver Knussen

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'…glittering fragments of melody that whiz by at high speed, an ever-changing web of instrumental colours. Music for a Puppet Court demonstrates its composer’s abilities on a tiny but hugely impressive canvas.' Read more

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