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Helen Grime

Publisher: Chester Music

Night Songs (2012)
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.
Chester Music Ltd
Year Composed
5 Minutes
Programme Note
Helen Grime Night Songs (2012)
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

Preview the score

  • Ensemble
    Hallé Orchestra and Hallé Soloists
    Lynsey Marsh
    Sir Mark Elder and Jamie Phillips
  • 25 APR 2020
    Night Songs US Premiere
    Tsai Performance Center, Boston University, MA, USA
    New England Philharmonic
    Richard Pittman, conductor

Helen Grime's five-minute 'Night Songs' faithfully re-creates a Knussen-type sound-world, and it too comes over like an oceanic tone-poem, though with a lighter touch.
Michael Church, The Independent,30/08/2012
Composed to mark Knussen’s 60th birthday, Night Songs is inspired by a work of the same name by the late artist Joseph Cornell, one of his well-known assemblages. Things felt perilous near the start, however, where the oboe- & trumpet-guided introduction led to a frantic, hopping texture that would not be out of place in one of Knussen’s own compositions (it brings to mind the first of his Whitman Settings, another nocturnal piece); for just a moment, Grime’s act of homage seems as though it might tip over into quasi-quotation. But Night Songs quickly pulls away, venturing instead through an episode of melodic searching before entering into genuinely nebulous territory. Only briefly, though; once again the piece moves on, Grime creating an interesting sense of momentum but not through blatantly rapid material, as though something deeper (unheard?) were impelling the orchestral movement. As it progresses, Night Songs grows in density & darkness, some flute flurries marking the end of the presence of high registers in the piece. Solitary bass notes begin the descent in the work’s final passage, increasingly solemn & pensive; a final bit of melodic moving around swiftly disappears, & everything becomes slow & mysterious, seemingly poised, where it ends.,28/08/2012
...the premiere of Night Songs (2012) provided a welcome opportunity to hear this most fastidious among younger British composers working on a substantial canvas. Not that that applied to the piece’s length – its resourceful interplay of shifting timbres and superimposed tempos unfolding in just over five minutes, though Knussen used the apparent absence of his glasses as a ruse for a second performance which, though only a matter of a few seconds longer, gave the music audibly greater room to expand as the fading echoes of its only significant tutti passage resounded across the evocative textures towards a deft final dispersal.
Richard Whitehouse,,25/08/2012
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