Orchestral and ensemble works 2001

L’heure bleue

Serenade for 16 instruments

commissioned by Alte Oper Frankfurt funded by AGIV AG

Year of composition 2001
Duration circa 10 minutes

to Oliver Knussen

World premiere

World premiere September 13th, 2001

Frankfurt · Alte Oper
Ensemble Modern
Conductor Oliver Knussen


Those who live on the shores of the Mediterranean call dusk ‘the blue hour’ because, in summer as in winter, in the evening after the sun has set and before the moon has risen, it suddenly and unexpectedly begins on the western horizon with a kind of opaline blue that slowly darkens in colour. But, as a source of wonderment, it is also present in all other parts of the world as well – always assuming that the sky is cloudless. This is the time when daylight fades and night, which has been waiting in the wings, enters gravely and very slowly, calmly transforming the whole of this world of ours. Our inner lives, too, are affected by this: hopes, fears, first love and loneliness are caressed by the gentlest and most beautiful evening light as though by comforting words or by snatches of music long forgotten.

I could perhaps have offered a more scientifically accurate description of the process by which the sky gradually pales and darkens and not regarded this process as of secondary importance, as the composition suggests at first sight (or, rather, at a first hearing). For that, we should have needed the courage to express things that are formless and speechless – instead of this and, as it were, by way of a substitute we have a large number of multiple shapes and symbols that appear to come into view as the light continues to change, their every move reflecting the shifting colours – clearly, not unclearly – so that only then can they be communicated and understood. Yet I conjure up no black winter sounds but only the contentedly contemplative atmosphere of a summer evening’s serenade. There should be calm. We want our peace.

Hans Werner Henze


Alto Flute   
Clarinet in B flat
Bass Clarinet
Oboe d’amore
Cor Anglais
Wagnertuba or Euphonium
(1 player)
Bass Drum with Cymbals
Thai Gongs
Tom-Toms (tuned)
Log Drum (deepest possible)
Tam-Tam (low)
Double Bass