Commissioned by the BBC

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  • Soprano [=Treble], Mezzo soprano, male mime, male dancer
  • 20 min
  • Peter Maxwell Davies freely based on Büchner's play
  • English

Programme Note

This masque of puzzling identities is based on the final scene of Leonce und Lena and on English nursery rhymes. The overture reveals an unusual septet of wind, percussion and plucked-string players on stage, dressed as courtiers, while a string orchestra plays in the pit. The boy king sings a nursery rhyme on the theme of things not being what they seem; he then demands to know the jester's identity. However, the jester responds by introducing a mirror-dance for his two personae, dancer and mime, whom he afterwards presents to the king as prince and princess. When they peel off masks to reveal themselves as prince and princess in fact (or so it seems), the king abdicates and dies. The jester has a mad solo that brings on painfully bright light, blinding the dancer and the mime, but restoring the king as a resurrected ghost. It is a fascinating and intricate piece, one that slips through the net of any interpretation while being too curiously beautiful to forget.

Blind Man's Buff was commissioned by the BBC and first performed in 1972. It is a Masque for soprano (or treble), mezzo-soprano, male dancer and male mime, with a string orchestra in the pit and an instrumental ensemble dressed as courtiers on stage. The text, which is by the composer, is based on the final scene of Bùchner’s play, Leonce and Lena, in which a King unwittingly married his son to a masked princess in the presence of a Master of Ceremonies, who is portrayed by a Jester. He is the force in control of the whole game and in answer to the King’s question “Who are you?” sings the lines central to the masque: “Am I this, or this, or that? It scares me to think how easily I can be peeled and segmented”. The King’s words set in motion a game of Blind Man’s Buff, in which nobody knows any more who, or what, is his real identity. The end is a kind of alchemical wedding: the King abdicates in favour of the masked newly-weds, and the Jester is elevated to the Minister of State.

© Paul Griffiths