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Notes: The Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association

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Since 1971, Peter Maxwell Davies (b. 1934) has lived on the Orkney Islands north of Scotland. This adopted homeland and the sea surrounding it have influenced a preponderance of the composer’s output since his arrival. As of 2015, from the former Master of the Queen’s Music’s 330 official opera, one-third owe their inspirational genesis to the sea and the Orcadian archipelago that Davies calls home. The 108 discrete works that are sea-themed fall into six genres: chamber orchestra, choral/vocal, instrumental, opera, orchestral, and compositions for young performers. Through Davies’s personal writings, it is clear that he implicitly and explicitly associates his compositional processes with Orkney, her environs, and the sea. The author asserts that by extension, any of Davies’s compositions that are taken up with the Orkney Islands––its intense weather, living residents, historical figures, mythological elements, folkloric, runic, spiritually Orcadian, and Davies’s wont for ecological-political and social commentary in his music––are similarly related to the sea. Because geographic location and the sea function as a principal subject, the premise of this study is to provide a catalog of Davies’s compositions that owe their origin to the sea, and to his life on the Orkneys. The author offers the catalog in an effort to foster additional examinations of Davies’s compositions through this thematic lens. Considerable additional study of this prolific composer’s output is warranted; the author hopes greater attention is given to this thalassic corpus of Davies’s output.


This article was originally published in Notes: The Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association, Vol. 71, No 4 (2015): 644-671. [Companion appendix to the chapter in The Sea in the British Musical Imagination].

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