Commissioned by the London Symphony Chorus with funds from the Arts Council of Great Britain

  • 2.2+ca.2+bcl.2+cbn/4330/timp.2perc/str
  • SATB
  • soprano, mezzo soprano, tenor, baritone
  • 50 min

Programme Note

A Christmas cantata is an uncanny recapture by Maxwell Davies of a relatively simple modal style *luminous, sometimes plaintive, sometimes rapturous. A linked series of George Mackay Brown settings designed to give pleasure (if sometimes strenuous pleasure) to a non-professional choir. A spiritual mystery is glimpsed in an Orcadian setting.

The Three Kings is a setting, for soloists, chorus and orchestra, of Christmas poems by the Orcadian writer George Mackay Broen, interspersed with related Latin fragments from fifteenth century carols.

I prepared the text fifteen years ago, but the opportunity to compose the music only presented itself with the present commission.

The work is continuous, there are no breaks between movements: the thematic process is also continuous, the transformations, developments and variations chrstallising out into very clear statements at each Latin sections, which are sung by the chorus in unison. Nos. 1 & 18 are lullabies, the first for a child being told the story of the three kings, the second for the new child himself, marking the departure and arrival points for the whole musical argument: nos. 20&21 together to make a postlude.

The musical material is mined from the same vein as my recent fifth symphony and the choreographic poem. The Baltane Fire, but it is like neither of these, in that modes of expression are closer to the sung vernacular of Orkney, while retaining the same or similar underlying principles of design and process: the actual choral layout draws on my experience writing for my own school choir in Cirencester over thirty years ago, and for the St. Magnus Singers, Orkney, in Solstice of Light, seventeen years ago, but modified and intensified by the more ambitious arcs of continuous transformation.

© Peter Maxwell Davies
August 1995


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