Revisiting Knussen's ‘Ophelia Dances’

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One of Oliver Knussen’s most popular works, his dazzling Ophelia Dances (1975) was revived in March 2016 by the LPO Foyle Future First Scheme under Ben Gernon. Knussen has long been fascinated by Ophelia and states that here he ‘wanted to write a piece whose light-headed and giddy qualities would suggest a crossing of the line that divides laughter from tears.’ The 8-minute work for nine instruments derives much of its material from Schumann’s Carnaval and two late works of Debussy, La boîte à joujoux and ‘Gigues’ from Images. An introduction sets up four dances (each more compressed than the last) before the momentum collapses, heralding a poignant coda with an eloquent solo horn wreathed in shimmering celesta.

‘The perfect miniature from the best ears in the business. Beautiful textures, and every note counts. I heard this for the first time more than 30 years ago while studying with Knussen and I still marvel at its mastery.’

Mark-Anthony Turnage

The work received its Mexican premiere at the Cervantino Festival in October with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group conducted by Christian Karlsen. In February Karlsen conducted the work again in Luleå, Sweden with the Norrbottens Kammerorkester in a programme which also included the National Premiere of Knussen’s Hums and Songs of Winnie the Pooh.

View the score of Knussen's Ophelia Dances online here