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Peter Maxwell Davies

Publisher: Chester Music

Naxos Quartet No. 9 (2006)
Commissioned by the Naxos Recording Company
Chester Music Ltd
Works for 2-6 Players
Year Composed
40 Minutes

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Programme Note
Peter Maxwell Davies Naxos Quartet No. 9 (2006)
The Ninth Naxos Quartet is dedicated to Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw, mathematician extraordinary, and sometime Lord Mayor of Manchester – both attributes which have influenced the content of this work. Dame Kathleen dedicated her recent book ‘Constructing pandiagonal magic squares of artbitarily large size’ to me, so this is some kind of reciprocal present.

There are six movements. Numbers 1 & 2 form a unit together, but what is now the first movement was originally going to be two separate movements. The resulting compressed ‘allegro’ is thus underminded by intruding slow elements – the effect is a gradual harmonic contamination – lifted from the discarded independent ‘largo’. The distortion is particularly real where intervals between notes are equally divided into unusual fractions – say, a minor third encompasses a scale of more than the common four chromatic notes, inclusive.

These divisions, on a very personal level, refer back to the popular music of the early nineteen-forties, whose contours and rhythms are echoed, as are also the raw sounds of war-time Manchester that I heard as a small boy, and associated with that music – air-raid sirens, the ‘glissandi’ of falling bombs, the tearing apart of crashing buildings – but all re-interpreted, sublimated and disciplined within terms of the string quartet, almost a lifetime after the events, with, I trust, some order lent by the quite exacting and elaborate magic square workings.

I have also referred back to Naxos Quartet No. 3, where I set Michaelangelo’s lines, voicelessly, in the ‘cello, beginning ‘Caro me il sonno, e più l’esser di sasso’ (sleep is dear to me, and being of stone is dearer) concerning his Roman exile from his home state, Florence, and criticising the ‘injury and shame’ of the government there.

The second movement, like the rejected sketch, is a ‘largo’, and is a slow-motion development of the first part of the first movement, with violent interruptions from the discarded music incorporated and amplified.

The third, fourth and fifth movements are almost an independent miniature quartet within a quartet. I think of them as a short play-within-a-play, remembering Hamlet and the Dream: the grotesquery will be very apparent. They are, respectively, a ‘scherzo’, a ‘lento’ and a ‘military march’.

The sixth movement is very much a Finale, summing up, and clinching the whole harmonic argument.

At the head of the quartet is a line from the apocryphal Book of Wisdom: - ‘Omnis in mensura et numero et pondere disposuisti’ – ‘Thou has ordered all things in measure, and number and weight.’

(c) 2006 Peter Maxwell Davies

Sample Pages

... quite radiant in its life-enhancing qualities.
Bob Briggs,,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 the Ninth quartet, I’ve gone to places I’ve never been before, some I didn’t want to go to…” The words of Peter Maxwell Davies in a pre-concert talk on his latest quartet, which was receiving its premiere at the Wigmore Hall. This is the penultimate quartet in his series of 10 commissioned by the estimable Maggini Quartet. Davies regards his quartets as a novel. As he puts it: “The same rhythmic patterns, themes and moronic designs are developed like characters throughout, also the same magic square matrices, and architectural structures carry over from one quartet to the next.” The Ninth harks back particularly to his Third, written in 2003, which was prefaced by Davies: “It is a privilege and a duty to comment on one of the greatest disasters of our time.” In this Ninth quartet, the anger and despair of the Iraq war that informed the Third is revisited, only now Davies fears a catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions: atom-bombs thrown by every race that wants to get the better of the other. The Ninth is in six movements. Two places that Davies had never visited and had never wanted to were distinctive: squashed tuning, widening and diminishing particular intervals by less than a quarter tone; and a feeling of chaos. The work is structured so that the third, fourth and fifth movements reflect the first, second and sixth, the inner three working virtually as a quartet within a quartet. Indeed, the same characters appear – the chirpy dances, the meandering melancholy lines, the quotation of a 16th-century theme, in this case one of John Taverner’s – but there is a tension, an intensity, an anger and a deceptive calm that is both disturbed and disturbing, verging on chaos.
Annette Morreau, The Independent,24/10/2006
The new 35-minute, six-movement work, delivered with the Maggini Quartet’s typical thrust and passion, gripped from the start with its fierce discourse. Swinging rhythms and crunched chords, complicated by glissandos and eerie microtones, jostled against contemplative moments: the music of a composer cross with the world, and frightened. Then came three acid miniatures: a scherzo, another nasty lento, a grotesque military march. An angry argument, this, and almost as structurally ambitious as a late Beethoven quartet; but how would it conclude? The finale strode confidently, collecting threads into a clenched fist. Yet the last bars offered no hope, either of peace or revolt: their tremolo cries felt like the last despairing twist of a knife in a wound that would never heal. The ninth quartet, I’m convinced, is a major achievement: blistering, cogent, necessary music, never locked in an ivory tower. And it was given a performance to match.
Geoff Brown, The Times,20/10/2006
The Maggini Quartet unveiled the Ninth in their Wigmore concert, throwing in the London premiere of the Eighth to kick-start the programme. The new piece is a vast, six-movement work of Beethovian scale and ambition. A dramatic and imposing allegro supplies the trenchant opening of the piece, followed by a largo of equivalent proportions and cogency. Then follows three shorter movements – a fugitive scherzo, a small, elusive central slow movement and a parody military march recalling Berg’s Wozzeck or even Shostakovich, rather then the 1940s popular songs fragmented elsewhere or the sounds of wartime bombing from Davies’s Manchester childhood. The allegro finale acts as a summation. Well over half an hour long, the Ninth maintains a dynamic sense of unity and provides an intense, compelling experience.
George Hall, The Guardian ,01/01/0001
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