Gordian Knots

SKU: ariel_gor_cs0062_gor_fs0063 Category:

gordian knots

  1. Air
  2. Chaconne
  3. Jig

In 1995, the musical world celebrated the tercentenary of the death of Henry Purcell, and the BBC broadcast every note he ever wrote. That same year I was researching the songs Purcell composed for The Wives’ Excuse, a rarely performed play by Thomas Southerne which the Royal Shakespeare Company was reviving, and I was once again bowled over by the wit, exuberance and pathos of Purcell’s theatre music.

There is, of course, no original clarinet music by Henry Purcell, and the idea came to me that I could celebrate his tercentenary, give clarinettists a treat, and fulfil a commission by the Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain. The music is inspired by, and draws on the music that Purcell wrote for The Gordian Knot Unty’d (1691). The last movement is a Jig in which Purcell ingeniously incorporates the tune Lilliburlero as a ground bass.

Gordian Knots was first performed by the British Clarinet Ensemble in Finland in July 1995, under the direction of Charles Hine.

The piece is dedicated to my brother Peter, who sadly died during its composition.                                                     GW

Gordian Knots


Guy Woolfenden


13 minutes

Year composed


Date of publication


First Performance

July 1995
British Clarinet Ensemble conducted by Charles Hine


Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain
with funds provided by West Midlands Arts


Gordian Knots
British Clarinet Ensemble conducted by Charles Hine

  • 979-0-57009-432-5 [Complete set]
  • 979-0-57009-433-2 [Full score]
No. of Pages



Clarinet Choir

Full instrumentation
Full instrumentation Clarinet in E flat (1)
Clarinet 1 in B flat (3)
Clarinet 2 in B flat (3)
Clarinet 3 in B flat (3)
Alto Clarinet in E flat (2)
Bass Clarinet in B flat (2)
Contrabass Clarinet in E flat (1)
or Contrabass Clarinet in B flat (1)

Press & Public Reviews

Guy Woolfenden has previously written for solo clarinet (a concerto for Jack Brymer and Rondo Variations for solo clarinet and wind ensemble) and he makes full use of the whole range of instruments in the three movements of Gordian Knots. Written in 1995 to fulfil a commission from CASS, the work is based on Purcell’s music for The Gordian Knot Unty’d of 1691, and it includes ingenious use of the famous Lilliburlero theme in the final Jig. Particularly memorable is the richly expressive central section of the opening Air, and the slow central Chaconne brings a mood of pathos with its plangent dissonances.”

Andrew Smith, Clarinet and Saxophone - Autumn 2000

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