Reading the runes

McGregor, Richard ORCID logo ORCID: (2000) Reading the runes. Perspectives of New Music, 38 (2). pp. 5-29.

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Researchers interested in the music of Peter Maxwell Davies have long been aware of a problem relating to the interpretation the precompositional workings and first-draft scores in the available sketch material: the presence of a personal alphabet devised when Davies was in his early teens and used, sporadically, in his compositional workings. It was obvious that some sort of labelling process was being used in the preliminary workings for individual pieces, but its significance unclear, while longer messages, found throughout the sketch material, were completely unintelligible. Sometimes such messages comprised only a few symbols, whereas in other places there were complete lines of symbols. As I have discussed in my article on the sketch material, printed in Tempo 196,1 Davies kept/keeps a diary in this script and in some cases it is said the content refers directly to specific compositions. He has suggested that these diaries will eventually come into the public domain, but only some years after his demise. Clearly it will be important for this script to be understood for the content to be of some use to scholars in the future. It is obvious to the eye that before the First Symphony (1975-76) the appearance of the script on the first-draft scores was particularly sparse, no doubt reflecting the use of the compositional diary. Subsequent scores have contained more or fewer annotations, possibly reflecting the speed of composition and/or the "status" of a work as a principal or a satellite.2 It is also possible that Davies has used the "compositional diary" less in recent years than he did earlier. In this regard the works from the period between the First and Second Symphonies (1976-80) may be significant, and will be the focus of a later study.

1. Richard McGregor, "The Maxwell Davies Sketch material in the British Library," Tempo 196 (April 1996): 9-19 and 197 (July 1996): 20-22.
2. As discussed in Peter Owens, "Revelation and Fallacy: Observations on Compositional Technique in the Music of Peter Maxwell Davies," Music Analysis 13 nos. 2 and 3, (October 1994): 161-202.

Item Type: Article
Journal / Publication Title: Perspectives of New Music
Publisher: New Music, Inc.
ISSN: 0031-6016
Departments: Academic Departments > Institute of Arts (IOA) > Performing Arts
Depositing User: Insight Administrator
Date Deposited: 27 Jul 2010 15:24
Last Modified: 11 Jan 2024 18:00


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