Commissioned by The Times
Unison voices and piano
Short Note on Peter Maxwell Davies’s Carols by Paul Griffiths
Davies’s carols have the exceedingly rare quality of being simple but not condescending, natural sounding but full of interest, beautiful but not sentimental. Their style is quite distinctive. Whether Latin or English, the texts come from medieval sources, and the music seems to strike back to the Middle Ages in its rhythmic life and its pure modality, though the common seconds and tritones make these very much twentieth-century pieces.
The harmonic character of the carols may initially challenge intonation, though once a choir has begun to get the hang of the music it sounds perfectly logical and clear. And the same goes for the rhythmic changes: these are integral to the way the music flows, and often dances.
Several of the carols are for upper voices only: the set of Five Carols (which is perhaps best done as a whole), The Fader of Heven from O Magnum Mysterium (in its unison or two-part versions) and Shall I Die for Mannis Sake?, this last being the only one of two carols with piano accompaniment (Shepherds of Hoy being the other). The others are all for SATB. None of them should stretch secondary-school choir excessively, while some of’ the SA settings might be suitable for children of primary age. All would provide excellent preparation for larger works such as O Magnum Mysterium (which incorporates four carols), The Shepherds’ Calendar or The Two Fiddlers.
Sotheby's, New Bond Street, London
Wednesday, 25 May 1994
New London Children's Choir