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Peter Maxwell Davies

Publisher: Chester Music

Piano Trio: A Voyage to Fair Isle (2002)
Chester Music Ltd
Works for 2-6 Players
Sub Category
Piano Trio
Year Composed
20 Minutes

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Programme Note
Peter Maxwell Davies Piano Trio: A Voyage to Fair Isle (2002)
The Piano Trio was written in September 2002 for the Grieg Trio of Norway. The inspiration was a trip to Fair Isle, an island I can just see from my home in Orkney on a good day, but a place which, under normal circumstances, is difficult to get to, and which one would hardly have time to visit. However, I was invited to the first ever music festival there.

The physical remoteness and craggy beauty of the place are well-known, but it was the involvemement of the population of seventy or so souls in the mounting of a new work by Alastair Stout, a Shetlander from there, which struck home most. This made demands on the island Chorus and the folk musicians which would daunt professionals, but which, in performance, gave everyone concerned huge satisfaction. I was most of all moved through the extraordinary expression of a community's essence - one felt that a challenging piece of new music had really permeated, through months of rehearsal, into the spirit of Fair Isle, to become a part of its fabric in a way new music seldom can - affecting and even changing the lives of a very special community.

My Trio is an attempt to express my delight at, and appreciation of this Fair Isle experience. I based all on a plainsong, proper to the day composition commenced, for the birth of the Virgin, which generates and permeates the whole of the single movement.

In a slow introduction the basic material emerges - in the following "allegro" I have tried to capture some characteristics of the local dance music, in the course of rigorous isometric transformations. The development section proper is slow and is followed not by a direct recapitulation of the "allegro", but by a scherzo which continues the transofmration processes already under way. Before and after the slow development, the flow is interrupted by short direct tributes to the indigenous musical tradition; the tunes are mine, arising from, and returning to, the all-pervading plainsong - but fashioned "in style".

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It was the Grieg Trio, but not a sniff of Grieg. Instead, back-to-back Beethoven piano trios and a Peter Maxwell Davies world premiere – all part of the Norwegian group’s dissection of Beethoven’s piano trios alongside commissions from modern-day composers… Bang in the middle [of the concert] they premiered Maxwell Davies’s own, first piano trio, Voyage to Fair Isle, a world away from classical Beethoven. The composer’s one-movement work was inspired by the people, music and craggy beauty of Fair Isle (of fluffy jumpers fame) adjacent to his beloved Shetland home of Orkney. The Griegs clawed skilfully up the crags of the work, turning its haunting whistles and whispers on strings, and cosy, calm piano chords, into stormy outbursts that sent all three flying across the stave. And in the middle sat a light and cheery folk melody. Captivating.
Matthew Connolly, The Times,13/02/2003
The piece is an affectionate homage to the people and the music of Fair Isle, beginning with a mysteriously pregnant, hushed two-part invention for violin and cello. There's a brilliant stroke later in the piece when this idea recurs on the cello, under the vanishing echo of folk music high on the violin. The combination of theatrical flair and a calmly unfolding rigour was absolutely compelling. Like the recent string quartet, it was a heartening sign that, in returning to chamber music, Maxwell Davies has also returned to his best form.
Ivan Hewett, Daily Telegraph,12/02/2003
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