• Peter Maxwell Davies
  • Temenos, with Mermaids and Angels (1998)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the BBC

  • 002+bcl.2+cbn2220timp.2percstr
  • Flute
  • 15 min

Programme Note

Temenos was composed last November (1998), for Richard Davies and the BBC Philharmonic. It is dedicated to the memory of Erika Verrier, who died in early childhood.

The title refers to my new home, on Sanday in Orkney – a piece of land cut off – a sanctuary. This was one of the first works I wrote there, after moving from Hoy, where I had lived for over a quarter of a century. It is not too difficult, with narrowed eyes and a childlike effort of imagination, to see the seals below the house and the seabirds above it as mermaids and angels.

A quiet, purely orchestral slow introduction leads to the flute’s first entry, in a longer, quicker movement of virtuoso writing for the soloist, and fleeting, glancing colours in the orchestra. A slow middle movement is heralded by a fanfare, with long, expressive lines for the flute, and the last movement, again fast, has music becoming almost naively childlike and extravert. The flow is interrupted by a short cadenza, and the work makes as if to finish in the manner of a fairly conventional concerto. The strings undermine this is a sustained, quiet chord, above which the flute line hover, in some kind of dark, provisional tranquility.

Temenos is played right through, without a break.

Temenos – a piece of land cut off – sacred precincts

Short Note by David Nice
The Greek sanctuary referred to in the title links this haunting seascape with another magical evocation of northern shores filtered through classical reference – Sibelius’s The Oceanides. There the two dancing flutes vanish, as Max’s soloist sometimes does, beneath an angry sea depicted by the brass ensemble. But there is another perspective here – to imagine the sea-creatures as mermaids and angels through the eyes of a child – and to effect this the first clarinet charms us with a lullaby at the start of the slow introduction, while the flute reminds us of the storytelling magic in another of the composer’s masterly quiet codas. In between the soloist rides the waves, gentle at first, soon developing a powerful undercurrent on marimbaphone before the swell gathers. The slow movement seeks its enchanted mermaid-singer, finally summoned by an eloquent clarinet solo to intone a mysterious, timeless song above hushed strings. The capriciousness which occasionally breaks through eventually turns the mermaid into a dry-land bacchante, leading the trumpet a merry dance in a final allegro which seems to bid a decisive farewell to the sea in a brittle tattoo, but returns to it at the timeless end of the piece.

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