Dedication Robert Cook, Peter Franks and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Commissioned by Strathclyde Regional Council and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Solo horn, solo trumpet, 2 flutes (2nd + alto flute), 2 oboes (2nd + cor anglais), 2 clarinets in A (2nd + bass clarinet in Bb), 2 bassoons (2nd + contrabassoon), timpani, strings
Short Note by Paul Griffiths
Of course this work draws on the experience of its two predecessors; it profits too from the Fourth Symphony, written immediately before and similarly injected with a strong dose of brass energy, and it also recalls the virtuoso and cantabile writing of the Trumpet Concerto. But one needs to look further back in Davies’s output – to Worldes Blis perhaps – to find a precedent for this powerful and dramatic single movement. Both solo instruments are hot and brilliant right from the start, and they get the music moving in rapid, often dancing directions. Eventually the outcome is an Adagio, where the energies become withdrawn, tense and disturbing en route to an explosion and a final, crucial peroration.
Extended Note by Stephen Pruslin
Although this is Peter Maxwell Davies’ first double concerto, it has roots far back in his compositional output. A waveband of horn writing has always been a feature of his orchestral music. As for solo horn, the unaccompanied Sea Eagle (1982) explores both the extrovert and poetic sides of its nature, while its potential for drama is used during the Welsh Herald’s aria of defeat in The Martyrdom of St. Magnus (1976). The horn is implicitly a concerto soloist in the Sinfonia (1962), and explicitly one in the Sinfonia Concertante (1982).
Sir Peter’s first published work, the Sonata for Trumpet and Piano, Opus 1 (1955), uses the instrument to chart new and uncompromising musical territory. Since then, a blaze of fanfaring in the trumpet section has often signalled the crucial moments in his symphonic structures, while a solo trumpet raises the curtain on the opera, Taverner (1970). The protagonist of the Trumpet Sonata finally arrives as concerto soloist in the ‘non-Strathclyde’ Trumpet Concerto (1988).
The Trumpet Concerto contains the embryo of the Strathclyde Concerto No. 3. Both are three- movement works played in one continuous span. Between the second and third movements of the ‘parent’ work, the solo trumpet engages in atmospheric dialogue with an orchestral horn. Here are the soloists of the third Strathclyde ready to burst forth in a concerto of their own.
Since the 1970s, Maxwell Davies has often implanted magic squares in the substructure of a work to form the bed-rock for its musical material. Magic squares are number sequences that yield the same result horizontally, vertically and diagonally. But in the present concerto, Sir Peter has afforded us a rare aural glimpse of the musical material actually assembling itself, first, in the orchestra from the ninefold Square of the Moon and then, in the trumpet, from the eightfold Square of Mercury.
The following musical build-up is capped and then unleashed again, so that the engine of the first movement is fired by a double ignition. This process goes into reverse at the movement’s end, where its downward curve is interrupted by a violent horn/trumpet outburst. Between these ascending and descending arcs, Maxwell Davies unfurls a buoyant Allegro moderato harbouring a ‘ghost’ sonata form, anchored by a ‘tonic’ of G and ‘dominant’ of C sharp/D flat.
A short link on alto flute and solo cello leads to the concerto’s central Andante. A brief introduction for strings ushers in a rich horn cantilena, followed by an equally expressive one for the trumpet. A duet for the soloists, above a G pedal, brings us to the movement’s climax, an Echo-Dialogue that recalls the trumpet/horn passage at the identical location in the Trumpet Concerto. But here, in a poetic coup-de-theatre, Davies reverses the usual associations of the two instruments so that the binding, blending horn becomes the voice of aggression, while the assertive trumpet responds quietly with a suggestion of the Last Post. The trumpet’s passive resistance strikingly recalls the response of the solo cello to a brass-led onslaught in the Strathclyde Concerto No.2.
After a brief dissolution, a timpani ostinato announces the concerto’s allegro finale, a rhythmically propulsive movement where the soloists flex their muscles in virtuoso duetting. A passage in rhythmic unison brings them even closer together and unleashes a motoric presto. The music then broadens to an adagio coda in which the orchestra divides its allegiance between jabbed horn/trumpet chords and an eerily suspended flute line.
By its use of multiple soloists, the present concerto marks a new stage in the unfolding Strathclyde cycle. In this, it harks back not only to Davies’s own Sinfonia Concertante, but to the genre as perfected by Haydn and Mozart, as well as to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. One can imagine, in the work’s far background, the hunting horns of the first Brandenburg and the piccolo trumpet of the second. In the previous two Strathclyde Concertos, Maxwell Davies expressed his interest in the type of non-confrontational concerto that flourished before Beethoven. Given the naturally high profile of the horn and trumpet, he has modified that aesthetic here to produce a range of musical relationships from cooperation to competition, while remembering that the latter can also be perceived as a mutual spurring on to greater heights.
Like the first two Strathclydes, No.3 is scored for a classical orchestra of double woodwinds, timpani and strings. But, for obvious reasons, it omits orchestral brass, and consistently chooses auxiliary woodwind (alto flute, cor anglais, bass clarinet, contrabassoon) of lower pitch. This is clearly done to produce an orchestral sound that acts as a dark, rich, woody escutcheon, on which the heraldic figures of the horn and trumpet are emblazoned in high relief.
Glasgow City Halls
Friday, 19 January 1990
Scottish Chamber Orchestra