The British composer-conductor Oliver Knussen has died at the age of 66, following a short illness.


His death was announced by his publishers of 40 years, Faber Music. ‘His impact on the musical community – both in the UK and around the world – was extraordinary,’ said the statement, ‘and is a testament to his great generosity and curiosity as a musician, as well as his unfailing love and deep knowledge of the art form.’

Perhaps best known for his operas based on Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop! Knussen was long at the centre of the contemporary classical world, as a composer, conductor, artistic director and champion of new music. He was appointed CBE in 1994, and in 2015 won the Queen’s Medal for Music.

‘Olly's death is devastating - he is a towering and irreplaceable figure in British music,’ said Alan Davey, controller of Radio 3. ‘His compositions had such strength, economy and clarity. He selflessly championed the music of fellow composers and was an all-round lovely, thoughtful, engaging man who will be hugely missed by everyone.’

Born in 1952, Knussen studied with the composers John Lambert and Gunther Schuller. He wrote his first symphony at the age of 15, going on to write two more before he was 30. To mark his 60th birthday in 2012, Knussen conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the Third Symphony at the BBC Proms – one of more than 30 appearances he made at that festival. His music was also featured in a BBC ‘Total Immersion’ festival that year at the Barbican.

Knussen’s music was renowned for its clarity and concision, as well as its meticulous and colourful orchestration. His Flourish with Fireworks (1988) is an established favourite. From 1998, he was music director of the London Sinfonietta


Earlier this year the Paul Sacher Foundation in Switzerland, which owns the Stravinsky estate, bought Knussen’s manuscripts as part of the Oliver Knussen Collection.


Rebecca Franks
Rebecca FranksJournalist, Critic and former Managing Editor of BBC Music Magazine

Rebecca Franks is the former Managing Editor of BBC Music Magazine and a regular classical music critic for The Times. She is currently writing her first children's book.