Commissioned by Wigmore Hall

The world premiere took place at Wigmore Hall on April 12 2019 performed by Allan Clayton and Aurora Orchestra.

  • T + str
  • Tenor
  • 20 min

Programme Note

One of Rimbaud’s most famous works, Une saison en enfer (“A Season in Hell”) is originally a long and intricate prose poem written, like the rest ofhis literary output, when he was very young. In it the author narrates avery personal and unusual visit to Hell, inspired in part by his tumultuous relationship with the poet Verlaine, while repeatedly condemning theChristian society in which he grew up. The language is incandescent: passionate, frenetic, complex, and the structure of the text as a whole just as idiosyncratic. I decided to select extracts from five of the nine sections, focusing on the passages which seemed to me to have the most musical potential, and to let my composition be both a close testament and a freeresponse to all this. We start with the Prologue, in which the author describes his firstencounter with evil forces and feelings. This is closely followed by Mauvais Sang, where he says he is of “a lower race”, and imagines leaving Europe for Africa to lead a more primitive life, until forced to submit by the colonisers. He also reminisces about his “vicious” childhood spent wandering the streets like a convict on the run. In the central Nuit del’Enfer, he finds himself in a soundless Hell. In Alchimie du verbe (DéliresII), he mocks his youthful poetic aspirations and dreams. And in the final Adieu, he comes to terms with the toughness of reality and his ownfinitude and imperfection, and says goodbye to his temporary hell (oftenseen as Rimbaud’s farewell to his life as a poet).