ENS.2008.11 | 7′
Poems by Bill Knott
Alto & Cor Anglais, Clarinet


1. Loveladen

2. Last Poem

Knots is an appropriate title 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.

For some time I’ve been working with a form of my own invention in which freely-composed vocal melodies are set over small repeating musical cells to create compacted song cycles. In Knots, however, there are two independent musical cells of different lengths repeating beneath the voice. These two lines thread in and out of one another, tying the music into literal knots. Meanwhile, the alto sings melodies cast in changing time signatures to accommodate the shifting relationship of the cells twisting and turning underneath, for a total of three separate lines heard simultaneously in different meters, united only by an invisible eighth-note pulse!

To formally unify all this knotty shit I composed two movements consisting of ten parts played continuously. The first sets ten individual short poems and the second one long poem with ten parts, each mirroring the other. In Loveladen the English horn plays ten motives that are then taken up in reverse order by the clarinet in Last Poem. Knots therefore ends where it begins, like a knot being untied. Or tied, depending on how you look at it.