Gnarly Buttons

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Gnarly Buttons is a composition for solo clarinet and chamber ensemble by the American composer John Adams. The London Sinfonietta and Present Music (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) co-commissioned the work. The work received its premiere at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London on October 19, 1996 with the London Sinfonietta, Michael Collins as solo clarinetist and the composer conducting. The work received its first Proms performance on 23 July 1998, conducted by Markus Stenz.[1] The New York City premiere was in October 1997, with David Shifrin as the clarinet soloist and Ransom Wilson conducting musicians of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.[2]

Gnarly Buttons is composed of three movements, with the following titles:

I. The Perilous Shore
II. Hoedown (Mad Cow)
III. Put Your Loving Arms Around Me

In addition to the solo clarinet, the work is scored for thirteen musicians, including a banjo player (who doubles on mandolin and guitar), a cor anglais, a bassoon, a trombone, piano, two sampling keyboards (loaded with samples that include accordion, clarinet, and cow), and strings. Adams has said that “The three movements are each based on a 'forgery' or imagined musical model.” He has also stated that Gnarly Buttons was influenced in part by his father’s passing due to Alzheimer's disease.[citation needed]

Adams has provided a short explanation for the title, claiming that it was a reference to the "gnarly buttons" on many trees, as well as the keys on a clarinet.[3]


  1. ^ Anderson, Martin (April 1999). "The 1998 Proms II: Politics and Premières". Tempo (New Ser.). 2 (208): 69–73. ISSN 0040-2982. JSTOR 944682. 
  2. ^ Allan Kozinn (11 August 1998). "Surprise, an Adventurous Counterpoint". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-15. 
  3. ^ "John Adams: 'Grand' And 'Gnarly' In Concert". National Public Radio. 1 August 2008. Retrieved 2014-12-04. 


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