Garth Knox


Grisey Prologue for viola and electronics

Knox Viola Spaces

Saariaho Vent Nocturne for viola and electronics

Nora Maraziete

Knox Three Entropies

Knox Still Points for 2 violas (with special guest Ruth Gibson, viola)

Grisey – Prologue for viola and electronics
Prologue for viola is the beginning of a cycle of pieces, Espaces acoustiques, which ranges from solo viola to large orchestra, via various chamber music formations: Périodes for 7 musicians, Partiels for 18 musicians, Modulations for 33 and Transitoires for 84 musicians. The version for viola, resonators and live electronics is reserved for solo performance. Essentially melodic, Prologue slowly and progressively detaches itself from the heaviness and hypnosis of repetition. A single melodic cell playing on the pitches of a spectrum of harmonics serves as the axis and point of reference for a kind of spiral. Everything comes from this cell, everything returns to it, but never at exactly the same level. The melody’s very essence, its gestalt, its silhouette, is worked on here, but never at the level of the note, because the pitches that make it up gradually move away from the original spectrum to reach noise, passing through different degrees of inharmonicity. 

This melodic silhouette also manages the grand form, tempi and the appearance of two types of insert: the heartbeat (short-long) and the echo. Untempered, Prologue poses enormous problems of interpretation (it is already so difficult to play a viola just right!). Added to this melodic dream is the response of the inert, the sympathetic vibration of the various instruments surrounding the viola, which play exactly the same passive role as the sympathetic strings of the sitar or sarangui, with the difference that these instruments cover a much wider acoustic range and can be modulated by electronic means. Voice alone, the phantomatic response of uninhabited instruments, but also an abstract and uncompromising structure, I hope to have succeeded here in stammering out what I believe music to be: a dialectic between delirium and form.

Notes by Gérard Grisey

Know – 3 New Spaces for viola

By Garth Knox

1 Up above our Heads

2 Microtonal Blues

3 No Pitch, No Problem

These New Spaces explore extended techniques for string instruments with the aim of opening up new sound possibilities for players and encouraging them to develop technical facilities which will enrich their playing of all repertoires. They are intended to serve both as ‘studies’ in these techniques and as concert pieces to be played (end enjoyed!) in public. Up above our heads is almost entirely in harmonics and is designed to give the player a pragmatic grasp of the harmonic series, which is so essential to understanding how our whole music system works. A series of variations leads us through the various techniques associated with harmonics and provides a practical familiarity with the vibrating string in harmonic mode which will prove invaluable not only for playing harmonics but also for understanding sound production.

Microtonal blues is an exploration of microtones, beginning with the ‘blues third’, a note placed halfway between the major and the minor third. It continues with the ‘natural’ tuning of harmonics, then playfully imitates intonation in ‘ethnic’ music, investigates the ‘beating’ phenomenon between adjacent pitches and generally lays down the groundwork for playing quarter tones, thirds of tones or any other divisions with confidence. No pitch, no problem takes away most of what can be the discouraging difficulties of playing a string instrument (namely, playing the right notes and playing in tune) by using rhythm and especially sound colour as the principal means of expression. The viola can be held in a relaxed way for this piece and the physical gestures of playing should be emphasised in a way which helps the listener to hear the sounds (psycho-acoustics). Percussion players do this naturally. The player is encouraged to develop the theatrical aspect of the piece and to

engage their creativity in order to produce their own personal performance of it.

Kaija Saariaho – Vent nocturne (2006)

The idea for Vent nocturne (‘Night Wind’) first occurred to me while I was

reading a bilingual edition on the poems of Georg Trakl. This synchronicity of

the two languages – German and French – led me to muse on the relationship

between the viola and electronics. The work is in two parts: Sombres mirroirs (‘Dark Mirrors’) and Soupirs de l’obscur (‘Breaths of the Obscure’). These, as their names suggest, focus first on symmetrical thinking and then on the variation of the glissando, not unlike a

sigh, that rounds off the phrases. To me the sound of the viola has always suggested that of breathing, which, along with the wind, became a major element of the electronic part.

Vent Nocturne is dedicated to Garth Knox. 

© Kaija Saariaho

Nora Maraziete – I Said 

Any live solo performance places both auditory and visual focus on the performers onstage. In a way, it’s almost like the performer is delivering a monologue…

Knox – “Trois Petites Entropies” 


1 : Parade

2 : Pluie

3 : Passacaille

“Trois Petites Entropies” is a selection from “Cinq Petites Entropies” which was commissioned by Radio France for a program called “Alla Breve” which broadcasts two minutes of music every weekday and a bumper edition on Sundays, when the five two minute slots of the week are pieced together. An obvious solution is to write five miniatures, which was my choice. This enforced uniformity of length gave me the idea to add my own rules of similarity – each miniature should start with the same note (D, the most resonant note on the viola d’amore), should follow the rules of Entropy (meaning developing from simplicity to complexity – or chaos, which is what we call complexity we don’t understand) and each title should begin with the letter P (for completely arbitrary reasons). While following these constraints to ensure unity, I tried to make each piece sound as different from the others as possible, to present and explore the great range of possible sonorities of the viola d’amore.

Note by Garth Knox

Still Points
Harmonic Fantasy on a theme by Tallis

Thomas Tallis (1505–1585) was one of the great figures of English Renaissance music

and the Third mode melody is probably his best-known work, largely thanks to Vaughan

Williams’s Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis.

In the manner of an illuminated manuscript, I wanted to bring light to bear on this

fascinating theme in three ways: from behind with mediaeval techniques like the ‘hoquetus’

passage of the opening or the dance at letter B, from in front with more contemporary sounds (letter A and similar), and from above with the extensive use of high harmonics. Almost all the notes of the theme fall very neatly on the ‘natural’ harmonics of the viola strings, and my ambition was to combine the ‘normal’ notes of the viola with its soaring harmonics, creating a rich luminous soundscape which reflects the spirituality of the theme.

Tallis’s melody returns repeatedly to the note B, and I interpreted this as a gentle

invitation to simply be, in the sense of quiet moments of mediation. To this end, a series of

still points are included in the piece: the first one is in silence (bar 67), the second reveals a

note (B) that oscillates in a harmonic heartbeat (bar 98), the third is a vibrating chord of B

with harmonics (bar 131), and on the last one the second viola tunes down the C string to B,

then explores all the natural harmonics of this new world (bar 170). The term still point is of course a reference to the words of TS Eliot in his Four Quartets: At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is.

Artist biographies

Garth Knox is at the forefront of the new music scene in many fields. Drawing on his vast experience as viola player of the Arditti Quartet and the Ensemble intercontemporain in Paris and his close collaboration with most of the leading composers of today, he has become a unique performer of music of many different styles, ranging from minimalist understatement to the cutting edge of new techniques and new technologies. Thanks to his interest in the viola d’amore and the mediaeval fiddle, his repertoire has opened up to the music of the past (mediaeval, baroque) which he persuasively brings into the present, and his Irish/Scottish roots enable him to dialogue with traditional music without complexes.


Highly sought after as an improviser and as a composer, he deploys his musical ideas as innovative instrumental theatre. His pieces have been played in leading festivals all over the world, and he has received commissions from the Kronos Quartet, Radio France, Festival D’Automne Paris, the Concorde Ensemble and the British Film Institute among others.

Irish violist Ruth Gibson is an expressive artist who’s freedom and malleability show itself in her great range of collaborations. As an internationally recognised chamber musician and soloist she has appeared at the world’s leading concert halls, including Wigmore Hall, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Centre, Het Concertgebouw, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Berlin Konzerthaus. 


As soloist she has performed under Sir John Elliott Gardiner with the Bournemouth Symphony, Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante with Dmitry Sitkovetsky at Clandeboye Festival in Belfast and in August 2021 she gave her BBC Prom debut with Manchester Collective. 

Alongside the Castalian Quartet, she is Principal Violist with Aurora orchestra interpreting great orchestral repertoire from memory; from Beethoven to Berlioz and Violist with Manchester Collective.  

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