ENS.104 | 9.6.08 | 7’
Alto or Tenor, English Horn, Bb Clarinet
Poems by Bill Knott from “All My Thoughts Are The Same”
- Last Poem
Knots has one of the most appropriate titles of any of my compositions, for a couple of reasons. Most obviously, it sets poems by the late Bill Knott, a shamefully neglected poet whose many short poems I could not long resist setting. But it also perfectly describes the formal properties of the piece.
By now anyone familiar with my music will recognize an obsession with a form of my own invention, in which vocal melodies are set over small repeating musical cells to create compacted song-cycles. For a while I’d been thinking: what if I put two lines of repeating cells on top of each other? The result would be a complex three-part polyphony made entirely of extremely simple elements. Each cell being a different length, every time one repeats it rubs up against a different part of another cell—which is also repeating—forming continuously changing harmonies in a static harmonic field. Philip Glass was doing a version of this way back in Einstein on the Beach, but my cells are more harmonically complex and do not come together much, or at all; they just wander around beneath the melody line until the section is done and it’s time to move on. This means the vocal line is cast in changing meters to accommodate the shifting relationship of the cells, so that not only are there three separate lines going simultaneously, all three are in different meters related only by an unheard eighth-note pulse!
To formally unify all this knotty shit I made two movements with ten parts each, the first setting ten separate short poems and the second one long poem with ten sections, so that in Loveladen the english horn plays ten motives that are then taken up in reverse order by the clarinet in Last Poem. This reverse order allows you to immediately hear the clarinet playing what the english horn just finished playing and recognize Last Poem to be a modified recapitulation of Loveladen. Knots therefore ends where it begins, like a knot being untied. Or tied, depending on how you look at it.