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Peter Maxwell Davies

Publisher: Chester Music

Spinning Jenny (1999)
Commissioned by the BBC
Chester Music Ltd
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
18 Minutes

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Programme Note
Peter Maxwell Davies Spinning Jenny (1999)
Read about this work at

The title Spinning Jenny refers to the device which revolutionised the Lancashire cotton industry, a spinning frame with multiple spindles, invented by James Hargreaves in 1764.
The former cotton town of Leigh, where I attended the Grammar School between 1945 and 1952, still boasts a Spinning Jenny Street, and I remember the place as clangerous with industrial activity. Today the mills and foundries are silent, but in my school years, a walk along the Bridgewater Canal from school to the town centre involved passing hellish open shed doors, where hundreds of women in rows operated deafening vicious machines, the unbelievably towering, clanging flywheels of mills turning all the machinery throughout a vast factory, and the violent roar from open doors of multiple white-hot furnaces.
This piece will form the fourth in a sequence of five, written recently, concerning my early years in and around Salford and Manchester - returning to places and events hitherto largely in the background of my musical output, but which, at a mature age, take on renewed significance. I am validating childhood in my own ears, as it were.
Spinning Jenny is a short and modest work, but ambitious, too, in that I have based its construction, for the first time, on a magic square of twelve. This seemed to be appropriate for the generation of mechanical-sounding musical processes, while ensuring audible and sensible symmetries and cross-references. The astute listener will notice, between industrial manufacture, reference to brass band and popular music of the period, and to the street sound of Evangelical Protestantism.


…a 15-minute caprice… The Lancashire of the new piece is the Lancashire of yore and Davies' own stamping ground in adolescence. There is something dark and satanic about the work's opening, but the score develops bright, complex colours while juxtaposing swatches of activity and repose, cacophony and concord. The warp and weft of the musical fabric are tightly woven, the more so as the work thickens towards its relentless mechanistic conclusion.
Geoffrey Norris, The Daily Telegraph,01/06/1999
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