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Peter Maxwell Davies

Publisher: Chester Music

Naxos Quartet No. 4 (2004)
Commissioned by the Naxos Recording Company
Chester Music Ltd
Works for 2-6 Players
Year Composed
20 Minutes

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Programme Note
Peter Maxwell Davies Naxos Quartet No. 4 (2004)
The fourth Naxos quartet was written in January and February of 2004, with the intention of producing something lighter and much less fierce than its predecessor, an unpremeditated and spontaneous reaction to the illegal invasion of Iraq.

I returned to the well-known Brueghel picture of children's games (1560, now in Vienna), which had been the inspiration for my sixth Strathclyde Concerto, for flute and orchestra. These illustrations liberated my musical imagination, but I feel it would limit the listener's perception to be too specific about which game relates to exactly which section of the work. Suffice it to say that there is vigorous play - leap-frog, bind the devil with a cord, truss, wrestling - alongside quieter pastimes - masks, guess whom I shall choose, courting, odds and evens. The single movement juxtaposes these activities as abruptly and intimately as they occur in Brueghel. Rather as the eye is taken into different perspectives and proportions of scale within the picture, taking liberties which would never be present in, for instance, Brunelleschi architectural drawings, so here, with a constant sequence of transformation processes, I have distorted the neat, precise implications of modal progression, expressed in the unison opening phrase (from F to B through A sharp/B flat), so that the ear is led, en route, into the sound equivalents of strange passageways and closed rooms: sicut exposition ludus.

As work on the quartet progressed I became aware that I was reading into, and behind the games, adult motives and implications, concerning aggression and war, with their consequences. It was impossible to escape into innocent childhood fantasy.

The nature of the F to B progression underlying the whole construction derives from a passage in the development of the first movement of Mahler's Third Symphony, and the opening of Schoenberg's Second String Quartet. However, unlike in these models, here a real - if temporary - sense of resolution occurs at the close of the quartet: as when the curtain falls on the reconciled Count and Countess in 'Figaro' one wonders how long the F/B truce will hold, and "games" break out again.

The quartet is dedicated to Giuseppe Rebecchini, Roman architect, and friend since the nineteen-fifties.

Sample Pages

There is a brooding and occasionally sinister edge to the work, with the listener being led from one game to the next through some dark linking passageways and disturbing dead ends.
John-Pierre Joyce,,12/10/2009
[Maxwell Davies] makes the process of four voices developing and resolving an argument appear astonishingly productive, without ducking the complexities that a 21st-century composer must confront in such a well-established form.
Andrew Clark, The Financial Times,12/10/2009
In one of the games, Martin Outram's expressive viola enjoyed a gorgeous, reflective song. Other games over the 26-minute span lost all innocence in outright aggression, linking this Fourth Quartet with the fury of its predecessor, written in response to the Iraq invasion. The Maggini's passion and range of instrumental colours proved vital here.
Geoff Brown, The Times,22/10/2004
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