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Peter Maxwell Davies

Publisher: Chester Music

Naxos Quartet No. 5 (2004)
Commissioned by the Naxos Recording Company
Chester Music Ltd
Works for 2-6 Players
Year Composed
25 Minutes

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Programme Note
Peter Maxwell Davies Naxos Quartet No. 5 (2004)
This Quartet is subtitled 'Lighthouses of Orkney and Shetland', which refers not only to the dramatic nocturnal sweep of a lighthouse beam across different textures of sea and shore, but to the various lighthouse "calls" - each one can be identified by the individual rhythm of its flashes of light.

There are two movements. The work opens with a slow introduction, of which the first note, B flat, is the unambiguous tonic of the whole work. The cello, at first pizzicato, then arco, carried the main argument.

A fast sonata section follows, in which I have tried to lead the ear through quite complex and constant transformations in such a way that it remains always clear how the expansions and contractions of linear contour relate, and where in our journey we are in relation to the tonic, and to its dominant and subdominant, or their displaced substitutes. I regarded this as "play" - ludus - shades of Quartet No. 4 - with the constantly changing illuminated surfaces and shapes of the wave, and the relative strengths of the lighthouses' sweeps of light across them. In Orkney and Shetland you can usually see several lighthouses at the same time when out at sea. The exposition of the sonata ends with vigorous upward scales on violins one and two, then four big crescendo tremolos, the last with a long pause.

The development is short and dramatic, and extends and distorts gesture, rather than expanding the modal spectrum or changing thematic material in a new way. The recapitulation is a much shortened version of both the introduction and the exposition, with the introductory material now played "presto".

A brief coda takes us to C minor - the "wrong" tonality with which to end, but the "right" place in the ongoing process - the opening of the second movement resolves this, but returning to B flat. This is a slow movement using the same material entirely, and with the same form. This development is also about intensifying gesture, and here, at the end of the recapitulation builds the climax of the whole work.

The coda goes right back to the opening of the first movement, and I thought of its ultimate fade-out as the sweeping beam of the North Ronaldsay light dissolving into the first light of dawn - a phenomenon I see, and enjoy, most days.

The quartet is dedicated to Thomas Daniel Schlee, composer, administrator and friend, with affection and gratitude.

Sample Pages

This quartet is more varied and beguiling than No. 4, with clearly defined shades of light and dark and subtler instrumental effects.
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
Peter Maxwell Davies' Naxos Quartet No 5 (performed in the presence of the composer himself) whisked us away from an evening at the Carinthischen Sommer to the stormy coast of the Orkney Islands in the north of Great Britain. This complex piece, subtitled 'Lighthouses of Orkney and the Shetlands' mirrored the structures and moods of the sea, and the rhythms of the flashing lighthouses.'
Philip Waldner, Kleine Zeitung,26/07/2008
'The centrepiece of the concert was the premiere of Peter maxwell Davies' 'Lighthouses of Orkney and Shetland.' You could hear the unfriendly weather and fierce water around these rugged islands so clearly you didn't need to be told the title.'
Frieda Stank, Kronen Quartet,26/07/2008
Davies's musical imagination darted so swiftly that the old signposts became submerged… from the crepuscular opening of rising and falling patterns to the still beauty near the end, Davies, and the Maggini Quartet too, displayed a complete mastery of the medium's resources.
Geoff Brown, The Times,22/10/2004
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