premiere: Nov. 1, 2011 with John Lowry, violin / Darnell Linwood, horn / Miranda Wong, pno
Commissioned with the support of the Scottish Arts Council
De Assumtione Beatae Mariae Virginis
North American premiere: Feb. 28, 2009 Victoria BC
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies is universally acknowledged as one of the foremost composers of our time. His charismatic and versatile musical personality, coupled with the worldwide spread of performances has meant that he reaches an unusually large and varied public. As the critic in the Wiener Zeitung wrote following a concert of all Maxwell Davies works at the Musikverein in Vienna “A great and significant occasion on the Vienna concert scene and the public took full advantage of it: the Musikverein was almost fully booked and scarcely anyone left in the interval. I know of no other living composer who could bring that off with a programme consisting entirely of his own works.”
His theatrical works include his operas Taverner, Resurrection, The Doctor of Myddfai and The Lighthouse (which has received over 100 different productions world-wide since its premiere in 1980) as well as The Martyrdom of St. Magnus, his full-length ballets Salome and Caroline Mathilde, and five music-theatre works including Eight Songs for a Mad King and Miss Donnithorne’s Maggot which have both become contemporary classics. His orchestral works include eight symphonies, which The Times has called “the most important symphonic cycle since Shostakovich”, the last of which being the Antarctic Symphony, for which he visited the Antarctic in 1997. He has written concertos for violin, trumpet, piano, horn and piccolo, and the ten ‘Strathclyde Concertos’ (written for the principal players of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra), as well as some lighter orchestral works, such as An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise (“the most performed piece of contemporary music”) Mavis in Las Vegas and Swinton Jig. Major works for chorus, soloists and orchestra include The Three Kings, Job and The Jacobite Rising.
Maxwell Davies is also active as a conductor and has recently finished ten years as Composer and Conductor of both the BBC Philharmonic and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras, and is Composer Laureate with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. He has also conducted many orchestras in Europe and North America, including the Cleveland Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Russian National Orchestra, the Oslo Philharmonic and the Philharmonia Orchestra.
Maxwell Davies has been recently concentrating his compositional efforts on chamber music, including the cycle of ten string quartets, which were commissioned by the CD company Naxos and are called the Naxos Quartets. These were performed in their entirety at the Wigmore Hall in London by the Maggini Quartet over a period of five years between 2002 and 2007, and have all been recorded for release on Naxos. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies was appointed Master of the Queen’s Music in March 2004.
The music of Peter Maxwell Davies is published by Chester Music Limited.
“This trio, for horn, violin and piano, was written in the winter of 2010 – 11, a winter of storms and snows of unusual ferocity, at home in the Orkney Islands, all of which is reflected in the music.
The folk-like melody, which opens the trio and played by solo violin, permeates the whole work. It is subjected to a sequence of dramatic transformations (based on magic squares of Mars and Venus, and the campanology permutations of Grandsire Triples) of extreme virtuosity, giving each player opportunity for brilliant display.
At the end, the original melody is recapitulated – not quite in this original form, but in a weather – beaten condition – before a final quick curtain.” – Sir Peter Maxwell Davies
De Assumtione Beatae Mariae Virginis
“I have borrowed the title from a chapter in the thirteenth century compilation of largely mythical lives of the saints, by the Dominican monk Jacobus de Voragine, the Legenda Aurea or Golden Legend.
The latin prose is purple, full of hagiographical hyperbole of a density which, these days, can raise a knowing smile. It was Pope Pius XII who, half a century ago, promulgated his Encyclical on the Bodily Assumption of the Virgin: henceforth Catholics were required to believe, as an article of faith, that Mary actually and physically ascended to heaven. Previously they had merely been recommended to harbour no doubts as to the veracity of the event.
A recent rereading of Legenda Aurea rekindled my fascination in this seemingly arcane subject. At the time of the Enclyclical, as a callow student, I had wondered at such a fantastical and illogical doctrine. Shortly afterwards, I read, in Jung’s Answer to Job comments which made some kind of sense of it:- what Pius XII had achieved, perhaps without awareness of some of the significance others would read into this, was a modification of the Holy Trinity itself. To God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost there was now a fourth element officially recognised – a Holy Quaternity whose last member, the Virgin Mary, was an unquestionably feminine principle. The Encyclical could be interpreted as a recognition of the Ewig Weiblich (Eternal Feminine) in a male-dominated religious matrix, or the recognition of the anima in a personal psyche.
My work is a belated celebration of this paradoxical awareness, as it were, by the back door – set in musical terms often not hagiographical, and much to do with my experiences in Rome as a student in the late nineteen fifties.
The work starts with a trombone statement of the plainsong Quae est ista, quae ascendit sicut auorora consurgens, pulchra ut luna, electa ut sol proper to the Feast of the Assumption, on August 15th. What interested me here was the reference to the Canticum Canticorum or Song of Songs. (The English bible here reads ‘Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun’). It is the Old Testament Sulamit, in all her extraordinary and explicit sensuality, who here becomes the Blessed Virgin herself, rising to heaven – the kind of paradox explored in the music.
To attempt to explain the purpose, nature and meaning of paradox in music is not only difficult, but probably self-defeating: I think enough will be clear to point the listener towards the intended kind of listening.
The trombone statement leads to an allegro, which explores the idea of ‘assumption’ through musical images of flight, suspension and hovering.
An adagio follows, initially soberly contemplative, but eventually incorporating musical imagery perhaps reminiscent of some of the more extreme post-baroque visual depictions of the Assumption.
A scherzo follows, which, while being on the one hand a varied recapitulation of the earlier allegro, introduces new musical possibilities offered by foldings-in-upon-itself of the plainsong.
The last section consists of a sequence of dynamic recitatives, in which the trumpet figures largely – I was imagining the Beata Maria Virgo’s flight somehow transformed into that of the golden eagle – and then, finally, a truly contemplative adagio. All this plays without a break.”
– Sir Peter Maxwell Davies