Dazzling and exquisite by equal measure, Ophelia Dances (1975) remains one of Oliver Knussen’s most performed works . Its composer 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.’
The Guardian (Mark-Anthony Turnage), 26 April 2012