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RIDDLE (2022) In Memoriam Oliver Knussen

For solo cello

First performance by Anssi Karttunen presented by the Aldeburgh Festival on 24 June 2022.
Commissioned by Anssi Karttunen
In Memoriam Oliver Knussen
Duration: 5'30"

To be performed with dancers when feasible.

Program Note

RIDDLE, for expert cello soloist, is virtuosic, playful, dance-like, nuanced, and nimble. A bit like Stravinsky and Bartok crossed with Bebop, like an engine with several different kinds of motors, wheels and cogs, the music churns and hops along at a fast tempo, unfurling a chain-link of transformations, variations and outgrowths. Musical connections are orbital; sounds cross-fertilize and establish relationships which, in turn, create new intersections, amalgams, and fulcrum points. The spirit of this work is that no two chords, motives, lines, phrases, rhythms are exactly the same. Everything is transforming - everything is an amalgam.

I care about craft, clarity, and passion. My works are organic and, at every level, concerned with transformations and connections. The carefully sculpted musical materials of RIDDLE are nuanced, agile and energized, and their flexibility allows for the braiding of harmonic, rhythmic, timbral, and contrapuntal elements that are constantly transformed — at times at times jazzy, at times groove-like, at times layered (counterpoint between different “lines” of music) and reverberating. Across RIDDLE’s five-minute and 30 second duration, the cellist unfolds a labyrinth of musical interrelationships and connections that showcase the musician in a virtuosic display of rhythmic agility, counterpoint, skill, energy, dynamic range, clarity, and majesty. Throughout the kaleidoscopic journey, the work passes through various lively and colorful episodes, which propel the musical discourse always with a sense of dance, caprice, and effervescence.

Music’s eternal quality is its capacity for change, transformation and renewal. No one composer, musical style, school of thought, technical practice, or historical period can claim a monopoly on music’s truths. Commissioning new art is leap-of-faith! I feel profoundly fortunate for the investments made by the Anssi Karttunen and by theAldeburgh Festival and I devoted my strongest, most focused efforts to composing RIDDLE in memoriam Oliver Knussen.

RIDDLE for solo cello is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to Anssi Karttunen and is In Memoriam Oliver Knussen.

— Augusta Read Thomas


Anssi Karttunen. Photo credit Irmeli Jung
Selected Reviews

Fiona Maddocks, The Observer, The Guardian, London, July 1, 2022 HEADLINE: Aldeburgh Festival
“Augusta Read Thomas’s Riddle caught Knussen’s free-spirited wit.”


To obtain examination or performance material for this
Augusta Read Thomas work, please contact Nimbus Music Publishing.