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Peter Maxwell Davies

Publisher: Chester Music

Naxos Quartet No. 6 (2005)
Commissioned by the Naxos Recording Company
Chester Music Ltd
Works for 2-6 Players
Year Composed
37 Minutes

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Programme Note
Peter Maxwell Davies Naxos Quartet No. 6 (2005)
Naxos Quartet No. 6 was written in December 2004 and January 2005. It is an ambitious work of six movements - a counterbalance in the cycle of ten quartets to the relatively slight fourth and fifth.

I have recently been studying again Beethoven's late quartets, and, although I am well aware that I could never aspire to write work remotely approaching such a model, I trust these studies show through positively in the present work.

The first movement is an allegro whose tonality becomes ever clearer, or, rather, relationships are gradually exposed between chords which will be more fully explored and fleshed out later.

The second movement, based on an Advent plainsong, is entitled Domica Tertia Adventus, Antiphona, and is a short scherzo and trio, in pizzicato.

The third movement is a second scherzo, with trio, of a more substantial nature, though still quite brief. The return of the scherzo material is varied, and prepares the listener for the fourth movement.

The fourth movement is an adagio contrasting sections of warm lyricism with a more dramatic and dissonant central section. Towards the end, each instrument has a recitative, during which the other three players hold sustained chords: the last bars of the movement are the first in the Naxos Quartets to have a key-signature, of four flats, for F minor.

It was Christmas Day when I wrote the fifth movement, before movements three and four, and it is based on a Christmas plainsong, and becomes a simple carol.

The finale is quick, and takes up again material from the first movement, expanding and transforming this.

The Quartet is dedicated to Alexander Goehr.

Sample Pages

[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
[an] engrossing set of stabbing prestos and lyrical stirrings.
Neil Fisher, The Times,24/10/2005
The sixth and latest of 10 commissioned by Naxos Records [is] overtly modelled on the multi-movement, transfigured suite form of Beethoven's late quartets. At the Purcell Room, the excellent Maggini Quartet revealed the subtelties of this most assured and attractive of the series so far. Key signatures are to be found in two of its six movements; the first of two scherzos is all pizzicato; there is a beautiful evocation of a Christmas carol; and the substantial adagio has a lyric glow immediately apparent.
Paul Driver, The Sunday Times,01/05/2005
But as Max's wonderfully spare quartet-writing demonstrates, it is the truest and purest of musical forms: it's all about developing a musical argument in the most intimate, collaborative way. The Sixth Naxos Quartet explores a similar vein of concentrated inwardness. Like its predecessors it inhabits an abstract, metaphysical world, far more disciplined than Max's recent writing for larger forces. At nearly 40 minutes, it is long, but its six movements sit well together and not a note is wasted: it is the work of a master. There's a welcome clarity of instrumental voicing in the febrile opening allegro. After two scherzos, the first in pizzicato, comes an adagio of anguished songfulness, to which Max introduces a striking device a recitative for each instrument against sostenuto accompaniment. Then a Warlockian carol before a brisk finale.
Andrew Clark, Financial Times,28/04/2005
It’s the most ambitious and substantial so far in this ongoing series of ten: its forty minutes and six movements make it a deliberate counterbalance within the cycle to the relatively slight Fourth and Fifth Quartets. What’s more, Maxwell Davies admits to having composed the piece in a period of concentrated study of Beethoven’s late quartets. It has been said that Beethoven was one of the few composers to write difficult music in every stage of his life. Here’s another. This Sixth Quartet begins uncompromisingly, with fast, dense music, restless tremolandi and trills, and harsh, hard bowing. There are sudden, brief hiatuses of stillness. The music seems to be in a perpetual state of uneasy expansion and contraction. Immediate release and relief is on hand in the form of two winsome little scherzos. The first is yet another take on Maxwell Davies’s lifelong love affair with plainsong: here an Advent chant, called Domenica Tertia Adventus, is teased into a playful pizzicato. It’s rather like watching a quill pluck away at an ancient stave. Then, more dislocation, more impassioned play, in a vigorously varied Presto of a scherzo and trio. The heart of this Quartet is its fourth movement, Adagio molto. This is the first time a key signature has shown up in this cycle: during the last few bars, the four flats of F minor appear, like a little emblem, on the score. Will this be a central still point, a pivot for the entire series? We’ll have to see. A shadowy minor third colours this movement’s harmony and discourse, whether in sudden freezes of shuddering tremolando, or in moments of solo declamation in which each instrument focuses and intensifies the music’s dark lyricism. We’re rocked out of this heart of darkness by a sweet, short, lilting lullaby of a carol and then propelled into a robust recollection, expansion and transformation of the movement’s beginning in its end.
Hilary Finch, The Times,28/04/2005
The latest premiere in the South Bank's celebration of Peter Maxwell Davies was also the latest of his 10 projected Naxos Quartets. Written, like the others, for the Maggini Quartet, the Sixth is a substantial but also introspective piece. Max has recently gone back to studying Beethoven's late quartets, and if he has brought anything of those to this, it is the idea of focusing a work on its inner movements. the swinging, angry scherzo of the third movement slowed to a halt, it signalled that we had reached the work's heart - two contrasting but equally beautiful slow movements. The long fourth movement had the instruments fusing together in music that was calm, single-minded and strikingly heartfelt; the brief, sweet violin monologue towards the end, answering harsher perorations from the other three instruments, seemed the work's most eloquent moment. This was followed by a short, unadorned, plainsong-inspired movement; written last Christmas Day, before Max tucked into his turkey, or swan, or whatever, it sounded deeply personal.
Erica Jeal, The Guardian,28/04/2005
The composer tells us that while composing the piece he studied Beethoven's vast, multi-movement late quartets, and their shadow has clearly fallen heavily on this new quartet. Firstly, there was the sheer ambition of the piece, which was in six movements totalling 40 minutes. Then there was the mysterious blend of the learned and the naïve, so like late Beethoven. The first movement was a mixture of fleet-footed dance and knotted argument, picked up and completed by the last; by contrast the fifth movement was a grave medieval-sounding Christmas carol, sung sotto voce first by two instruments, then three, then four, with one luminous moment when the music suddenly became guilelessly tonal. (Maxwell Davies often claims a tonal logic lurking behind his dissonant-seeming notes, but it's rarely so overt.) The massive centrepiece of the quartet was an elaborate slow movement with a fierce middle section, which groped for and eventually found a resolution. Most Beethovenian of all was the way the quartet seemed to gather all its disparate parts into a compelling unity. The cogency of the music certainly brought out the best in the quartet... they sounded as if they meant every note. At the end Maxwell Davies gave a little delighted skip as he followed the players off the stage after the applause. He looked like a man who felt he'd scored a bull's-eye; as indeed he had.
Ivan Hewett, The Daily Telegraph,28/04/2005
Peter Maxwell Davies's Naxos Quartets are coming on rather impressively. The Sixth had its world premiere in this recital, which was part of the South Bank's "Max" festival. The short second movement, a scherzo based on an Advent plainsong, has a delightfully eerie effect. The third - another, longer scherzo - plays much more successfully than the first, and (seemingly, in this case, entirely deliberately) is on the edges of coherence, with boldly exaggerated lyrical splashes, followed by the becalmed simplicity, but then growing intensity, of the trio section before a varied reprise of the scherzo. The fourth movement is a powerfully sustatined example of the kind of slow, sustained string counterpoint that Davies has always done well. Short 'recitatives' for each instrument are followed by a final passage in a highly moving F minor. We have reached the work's heart and soul. After this, the fifth and sixth movements provide an appropriately lighter and effective conclusion. The Maggini gave this premiere performance with every sign of already being inside the work musically as well as rising to its technical challenges.
Keith Potter, The Independent,28/04/2005
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