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Peter Maxwell Davies

Publisher: Chester Music

The Turn of the Tide (1992)
commissioned by the Association of British Orchestras with funding from the Arts Council of Great Britain, the Scottish Arts Council, Welsh Arts Council and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland
Work Notes
Choral parts for sale
Chester Music Ltd
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
25 Minutes
children's choir
Solo Instrument(s)
[5 groups of young instrumentalists]
Alternate Orchestration

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Programme Note
Peter Maxwell Davies The Turn of the Tide (1992)

First performance February 12 1993, by the Northern Sinfonia conducted by Richard McNicol, at the Lightfoot Centre, Newcastle, as part of the Association of the British Orchestra Conference.

Commissioned by the Association of British Orchestras

Movements: -

1. First Life
2. Creation Established – Life flourishes
3.4. 5. The Worst that could happen – The corruption and dissolution of all Nature completed
6. The Warning is heeded – Nature reborn

Instrumentation: -
• 2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo)
• 2 oboe
• 2 clarinets in F flat (2nd doubling bass clarinet)
• 2 bassoons (2nd doubling contrabassoon)
• 2 horns in F
• 2 trumpets in C
• 2 tenor trombones
• bass trombone
• tuba
• timpani

Percussion: -
• (3 players)
• bell tree
• glockenspiel
• marimba
• 4 suspended cymbals
• wood blocks
• tenor drum
• 4 temple blocks
• tam tam
• bass drum
• side drum
• harp
• celesta
• strings

“The Turn of the Tide” was written for the Association of British Orchestra with the specific request that the music I wrote for professional players should include spaces for young musicians to fill out with their own work. Although I have composed works for young people to perform, and have encouraged and supervised young composers’ workshops, where music has been improvised and written by individuals, and so collectively, by small groups this project of The Association of British Orchestras presented a new and different challenge.

I have provided music which can be regarded as a catalyst to the composition of further music, based on mine, where my contribution is very flexible ----- This can be extensive or brief, depending upon the circumstances, and governed by the length and complexity of what the young people produce. Furthermore, I have provided two versions, one for full symphony orchestra, and one for modest chamber orchestra, and there is an optional chorus at the end. All my music in “The Turn of the Tide” is based upon very plain “building blocks” of material, infinitely adaptable for young people, but I hope stimulating and inspiring enough for concentrated development and transformation.

I chose an environment theme --- This is something very much in the forefront of my mind at home in Orkney, where the oil tanker disaster such as happened in Shetland is an ever present possibility, and where the local population has made its views against the mining of uranium in the island very clear.

This is a creation story, with a difference.

There are six main sections.

The first of these, First Life have five subsections: -

1. The creation of underwater plants
2. The creation of plants on land
3. The creation of the first sea creatures
4. The creation of birds
5. Mammals, and the first people

After each of these subsections, the youngsters contribute their own quite specific contribution to the creation story; each performance will clearly have different music, with different sources of inspiration, and different titles.

The second section under the heading Creation Established, Life Flourishes is for the professional orchestra, and its five subsections demonstrate certain compositional techniques which the young people might or might not take up and develop.

1. The underwater plaints flourish (addition of part, and variation by decorations)
2. The trees flourish (change of meaning through harmonic change
3. The prosperity of fish (development --------a sonata)
4. Bird migration (transformation------colour change)
5. Instinct and intellect in mammal and mankind (transformation ---- magic square)

In the third section, each off the five groups of young musicians involved chooses a subject to demonstrate musically the flourishing of a part of nature, using the given materials and techniques if possible, to ensure some kind of overall unity.

For the fourth section, each of the five school groups will study the breakdown procedures of the fifth section, and relate this to section three, including elements of improvisation.

This section five for the professional, with additions from the youngsters, is entitled The worst that could happen—the corruption and dissolution of all nature completed. Here, disasters to nature are expressed by precise musical procedures---

1. The sea plants are poisoned (decoration so profuse it smothers the material)
2. The trees are suffocated (harmonic change so dense the chords are obliterated)
3. The fish are deformed and cannot function ( a sonata development that fragments material beyond repair)
4. The birds fall from the sky (transformation of contour which reduces the line to one repeated note only)
5. Hubris triumphant (the magic square becomes a block of dissonant intervals)

The final sixth section is entitled The warning is heeded – nature reborn. The decline is reversed, and professional with groups, and a chorus joins together for a triumphant dance of all creation.

© Peter Maxwell Davies

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  • Ensemble
    BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
    Peter Maxwell Davies
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