St.Magnus Festival, Orkney
BBC Philharmonic / Peter Maxwell Davies
This symphony is the last of a cycle: No. 8 is a musical account of my visit to Antarctica, with very different aims and preoccupations.
Of all my symphonies, this is the most classical, with reference to, and dependency upon, the music of Haydn. Over the last ten years I have done much orchestral conducting, including many symphonies by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. There is no better way to get to know this music – I felt I began to understand it in a creative way, from inside the structure. Much analysis of the classics is concerned with the unity of a work, whereas what has fascinated me is the means by which composers achieve diversity within the given unity – how two ideas, despite having readily identifiable common roots, forever sound so different, fresh and surprising.
The first movement takes and adapts procedures from the exposition section of a symphonic movement only, moving between two contrasted types of material and attempting to distinguish between this and music which builds bridges in between.
The second movement is a Minuet and Trio. Here Haydn's work surfaces quite literally, with a reference to one of the Opus 20 string quartets. Yet the surface of the music sounds unlike Haydn's originals – although the trademarks of his dance form are there, they are thoroughly reinterpreted in relation to my own late twentieth century musical experience.
The opening of the third, slow movement, with its very simple two- and three-part string writing, refers in spirit and style most obviously to Haydn's middle period. The build-up to the climax employs orchestral colours unavailable to an eighteenth century 'Sturm und Drang' composer, but these sources are always present in phrase-structure, symmetry and tonal outlay.
The fourth movement is a large development section, treating all the previous material. The main feature of a traditional development – structured modulation through a sequence of tonal areas – is the dominant characteristic, together with the splintering, re-assembly and reworking of ideas heard before. Towards the end, the sections become shorter and more concentrated but, after this, I felt it superfluous to attempt a recapitulation. I envisaged the listener to a recording at home being able to return to the first movement and, perhaps, when technically such things become possible, making such adaptations and modulations, interactively, as would bring the symphony to a suitable close. I have also designed this (provisional) close to the work to lead logically back into the opening bars of my very first symphony, so that the whole cycle could start over again.
© Peter Maxwell Davies
This programme note may be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer