About this Piece
British composer/conductor Oliver Knussen (b. 1952) was born into a musical family, began composing at the age of six, and conducted the premiere of his Symphony No. 1 (since withdrawn) at the age of 15. He has composed the operas Where the Wild Things Are and Higgelty Piggelty Pop!, two more symphonies, and a number of songs and chamber pieces. The ensemble version of "Notre Dame des Jouets" was first performed in 1995 by members of Het Brabants Orkest conducted by Knussen; the Schönberg Ensemble and its director Reinbert de Leeuw gave the premiere of the second Organa at their 20th anniversary concert in 1994. The composer has written the following note about his Two Organa.
"The Two Organa approach the same idea in quite different ways. The 12th-century organa of the Notre Dame school (most notably those of Pérotin) employ plainchant as the slow foundation for rapid, ecstatic, dance-like melismata. In June 1994 I used this technique to write a very short piece for a Dutch project involving a two-octave musical box using only white notes. I dedicated the resulting 'Notre Dame des Jouets' to Peter Maxwell Davies on his 60th birthday and orchestrated it some months later. The second organum, dedicated to Reinbert de Leeuw, brings the same technique into a less 'innocent' world employing the total chromatic in elaborately grinding polyrhythmic layers. It should be heard with half an ear on the foreground activity and the other half on the extremely slow cantus firmus that defines its scale and resonances."