• Peter Maxwell Davies
  • The Last Island for String Sextet (2009)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)
  • 2vn.2va.2vc
  • 14 min

Programme Note

The title refers to the further of two small islands off the coast of Sanday, Orkney, close to my house, which can be reached by foot at low tide. It is home to rare wild flowers and birds, and is reputed to be the resting place of hundreds of shipwrecked mariners who have perished on the rocks through the centuries.

This sextet attempts to invoke the island’s unique atmosphere – essentially peaceful and full of the wonder of ever-changing light of sea and sky, yet strangely threatened with menace, even on the brightest of days.

I have taken some of its most intriguing bird and sea sounds as starting points, and transformed these through a ninefold lunar magic square, which informs the whole structure. There is just one movement, characterised by extreme contrast of tempo and dynamic, with, towards the end, references to an unusual plainsong version of ‘Ave Maris Stella’ (Hail, Star of the Sea), which might have been sung by the small group of monks who lived here before the Reformation, whose ruined chapel still dominates the closer of the two islands.

© Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

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