Commissioned by Michael Chance
This is a setting of Ophélie by Arthur Rimbaud written in 1870 when he was 16. Richard Rodney Bennett came across it years ago, liked it and mentally stockpiled it. When Michael Chance asked him for a work for voice and ondes martenot, it seemed an ideal text. It was the composer’s idea to add a harp to the texture.
It begins with a dense cushion of sound from the strings on which the harp and voice (singing in French) are laid:
‘On the calm black water where the stars are sleeping,
White Ophelia floats like a great lily...’
It is only towards the end of the fourth stanza:
‘A mysterious anthem falls from the golden sky...’
that the ondes makes its first imperceptible entry (on the ribbon) acting as a high reprise to the voice. A climax is reached at the eighth stanza:
‘and fearful Infinitely dazzled your blue eye.’
followed by a short cadenza for the ondes and harp which leads to the final stanza and a coda which dies away to nothing.