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Peter Maxwell Davies

Publisher: Chester Music

Blind Man's Buff (1972)
commissioned by the BBC
Text Writer
Peter Maxwell Davies freely based on Büchner's play
Chester Music Ltd
Opera and Music Theatre
Sub Category
Operetta / Musical Theatre
Year Composed
20 Minutes
Soprano [=Treble], Mezzo soprano, male mime, male dancer

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Programme Note
Peter Maxwell Davies Blind Man's Buff (1972)
This masque of puzzling identities is based on the final scene of Leonce und Lena and on English nursery rhymes. The overture reveals an unusual septet of wind, percussion and plucked-string players on stage, dressed as courtiers, while a string orchestra plays in the pit. The boy king sings a nursery rhyme on the theme of things not being what they seem; he then demands to know the jester's identity. However, the jester responds by introducing a mirror-dance for his two personae, dancer and mime, whom he afterwards presents to the king as prince and princess. When they peel off masks to reveal themselves as prince and princess in fact (or so it seems), the king abdicates and dies. The jester has a mad solo that brings on painfully bright light, blinding the dancer and the mime, but restoring the king as a resurrected ghost. It is a fascinating and intricate piece, one that slips through the net of any interpretation while being too curiously beautiful to forget.

Read about this work at

BLIND MAN’S BUFF was commissioned by the BBC and first performed in 1972. It is a Masque for soprano (or treble), mezzo-soprano, male dancer and male mime, with a string orchestra in the pit and an instrumental ensemble dressed as courtiers on stage. The text, which is by the composer, is based on the final scene of Bùchner’s play, Leonce and Lena, in which a King unwittingly married his son to a masked princess in the presence of a Master of Ceremonies, who is portrayed by a Jester. He is the force in control of the whole game and in answer to the King’s question “Who are you?” sings the lines central to the masque: “Am I this, or this, or that? It scares me to think how easily I can be peeled and segmented”. The King’s words set in motion a game of Blind Man’s Buff, in which nobody knows any more who, or what, is his real identity. The end is a kind of alchemical wedding: the King abdicates in favour of the masked newly-weds, and the Jester is elevated to the Minister of State.

The work lasts approximately 20 minutes.

© Paul Griffiths

Blind Man's Buff, a black masque (involving masked figures) adapted from Büchner's Leonce und Lena, has been little heard since its 1972 premiere. In this unstaged account, it had the benefit of superb singing by the sopranos Lucy Shelton and Claire Booth, and a conductor who drew from the spiky instrumental parts a flaring brilliance recalling late Stravinsky.
Paul Driver, The Sunday Times,01/05/2005
A spin-off from Davies' first opera, Taverner, it is a strange, rather charming piece: a masque in which a king and a jester vie for supremacy. The jester wings when the king unwittingly marries off his son. Davies' text mixes nursery rhymes with doggerel, while the music has genuine lightness of touch.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian,26/04/2005
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