Alexander Goehr was born in Berlin and is the son of the conductor Walter Goehr.
Goehr studied composition with Olivier Messiaen. The music scene of Paris made a great impression on him and he became good friends with Pierre Boulez and was heavily involved in the serialist avant-garde movement of the early 1960s.
Alexander Goehr is Emeritus Professor at Cambridge University.
“Unburdened by ideology and technical schemata, Goehr’s works fly free of their conceptualisation with the energy of pure artistic discovery. What he most values in his technical devices is an ability to throw up felicities of part-writing or reiterative rhythm which may be cultivated for their independent strangeness and beauty. Such trouvailles lend his music a very personal flavour even as they unlock the fragrance of the past.” Paul Driver
Goehr’s orchestral evocation of Goya’s terrifying painting, Colossos, is coupled with the premiere recording of his early cantata The Deluge, inspired by Eisenstein’s notes for a film based on a writing by Leonardo da Vinci (the film was never completed). The neo-classical Little Symphony uses the chordal structure of Mussorgsky’s ‘Catacombs’ from Pictures at an Exhibition as a harmonic backbone and is performed by the Dutch chamber orchestra, ASKO Ensemble.
“Together, these two wiry, wrought works sum up so much of what has been essential to Goehr's music ever since [their premieres]: the modernism of Stravinsky and the Second Viennese School on the one hand, the forms and practices of baroque music on the other...an impressive musical span, which Knussen energises quite wonderfully.” The Guardian, 5th April 2012 ****
“Little Symphony (1963) is a memorial to [Goehr's] conductor father, Walter. The title designates the smallish forces involved, not the argument, which is profound, original and 29 minutes in the working out. It is interpreted with idiomatic alertness by Knussen and the ASKO and Schönberg Ensembles.” Sunday Times, 8th April 2012
“music whose expressive impact balances its formal abstraction, by turns declamatory and rarefied, without sacrificing its underlying fervour...The performances are as authoritative as expected from singers such as Claire Booth and Hilary Summers, with Oliver Knussen drawing perceptive playing from three different groups, in sound that makes the most of three very different acoustics.” International Record Review, May 2012
“Definitive performances in excellent sound. Urgently recommended.” Classical Music, 19th May 2012 *****
“Knussen directs performances that are as far from routine as it's possible to get, with wonderfully vivid results.” BBC Music Magazine, November 2012 *****