BBC Radio 3 commission for the BBC Proms. First performed 25 August 2012 at the Royal Albert Hall, London by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Oliver Knussen.

  • 3(pic).2+ca.2+bcl.3(cbn)/4.3(pictpt).2+btbn.btba/3perc/hp.cel/str
  • 5 min

Programme Note

The title and starting point for this nocturnal miniature comes from a box assemblage by the American artist Joseph Cornell. Although the box itself is quite small, I was struck by Cornell’s ability to create a self contained miniature world. There is a melancholy yet fantastical undertone to the work and this is something I have attempted to create in Night Songs.

The piece opens with high oboe solo echoed by muted piccolo trumpet, and it is this melody which weaves its way through the work, shifting in colour, shape and impulse before coming to a brief, yet passionate, climax towards the end. A brighter, more insistent, widely spaced staccato melody pierces the texture, moving through background and foreground throughout.

A sequence of dreamy, very hushed episodes, which interrupt the melodic line become increasingly frantic and disturbing as the piece develops, leading to a rare orchestral tutti utilising the whole registral gamut available. These passage gradually subside and shorten, appearing as enigmatic memories at the work’s close.

Night Songs was commissioned by the BBC to mark Oliver Knussen’s 60th birthday and was premiered on 25 August 2012 at the BBC Proms with Oliver Knussen conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

© Helen Grime


Night Songs


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