Two processes of growth here go in tandem, since each of the four movements develops audibly out of a presented fragment of plainsong from the Maundy Thursday office, and since the movements are also of gathering complexity. The first is a few bars of decorated chant; the second, a contrapuntal invention lasting just over a page; the third, a slow meditation and the last, a virtuoso toccata.
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The SONATA FOR THE ORGAN is based on a plainsong fragment from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, traditionally sung on Maundy Thursday in the ceremonies spiralling down to the sacrifice of Christ on Good Friday.
It is essentially a contemplative work, in four movements, each prefaced by a clear statement of the relevant plainsong fragment – each of these statements suggesting new harmonic transformations, which are then “through-composed” in the following music.
The first movement is only one line long, the second a page. This opening pair of movements suggest, with their overtones of “traditional” organ music’s treatment of plainsong, a framework or context in which the more complex and extended third and fourth movements can unfold. These become ever more expressively searching, and more demanding in sheer virtuosity. The work moves between the tonal centres F and B, cadencing finally on the D equidistant between them.
It is dedicated to Richard Hughes who gave the first performance on Wednesday 23 June 1982 at St Magnus Cathedral, Orkney as part of the Sixth St Magnus Festival.
© Peter Maxwell Davies