Peter Maxwell Davies
Born September 8, 1934, in Salford, United Kingdom
Died March 14, 2016, in Sanday, United Kingdom
2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, bagpipes, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, strings
Performance time
13 minutes
May 10, 1985, in Boston, Massachusetts
Last Performed by the TSO
TSO Premiere

In 1970, British composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies made a transformative move to the remote and rugged Orkney Islands, situated off the northern coast of Scotland. This strikingly dramatic environment left an indelible mark on the composer, who noted that there is “no escape from yourself here, you just have to realize what you are through your music with much more intensity than in urban surroundings.” Initially, the local residents regarded him as an eccentric outsider from the southern regions, and some of the more conservative islanders hoped he might seek a more conventional means of livelihood than composing music. Nevertheless, with the passage of time, Davies and the islanders forged a unique connection. As the composer drew inspiration from the island’s breathtaking landscapes and captivating legends, the community, in turn, embraced the fascination he held for their way of life.

In 1978, Davies attended a neighbor’s wedding, which inspired a musical work he called An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise. The composer describes his experience (and the resulting composition) as such:

It is a picture postcard. We hear the guests arriving, out of extremely bad weather. This is followed by a processional and [a] first glass of whiskey. The band tunes up and we get on with the dancing, which becomes ever wilder, until the lead fiddle can hardly hold the band together. We leave the hall into the cold night. As we walk home across the island, the sun rises to a glorious dawn. The sun is represented by the highland bagpipes, in full traditional splendor.

In line with the tongue-in-cheek humor of the work, Davies directs the bagpipe soloist to be kilted in traditional Scottish regalia, entering from the back of the hall and parading to the stage to take their place as soloist. It is with pealing glockenspiels, trumpeting brass, thundering timpani, and the joyful droning of the bagpipes that the piece concludes.

Benjamin P. Skoronski