My second violin concerto was born one day when I took a walk with a local traditional fiddle player along the shore near my house on the island of Sanday, Orkney, Scotland (population about 500). There is a strong tradition of folk music in Sanday, with a flourishing ‘fiddle club’, for whom I have composed quite a lot of music in folk style: they play for dances, and give concerts. However, these traditions are under threat from contemporary commercial music, and the shore walk, where the sound of folk tunes on violin combined with the sounds of the sea, brought home the bigger threat of climate change: it is reckoned that one of the first places to disappear under the sea due to climate change will be Sanday, and that my house, so close to the water, will be one of the very first to be inundated.
So the new work is at the same time a celebration of Orkney traditional fiddle music, and of the sheer wonder and beauty of the sea, whose sound permeates every moment of your life, and also a meditation on the fragility of this music under modern pressures, and the vulnerability of a sandy island in the way of ever-rising seas, as icecaps melt.
The work is in one movement, whose mercurial changes of pace and mood reflect the extremely quickly changing weather patterns of the island, while at the same time reflecting and celebrating the contrasting emotional moods of the slow air, strathspey and reel.
I wished to end the work on an affirmative and positive note – I did my best – however, I felt that under the circumstances, with whole futures in doubt, it was only honest to end with a question mark: the music literally dissolves quietly into the sea.
© Peter Maxwell Davies
Read about this work at www.maxopus.com