This work, written by Maxwell Davies in 1983 for chamber orchestra, was commissioned to celebrate the quartercentenary of Edinburgh University. The first performance was given by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Edward Harper in October 1983. Duration c. 29mins.
This work was thought through in outline following a visit to the ruined pre-Reformation church of Hoy in Orkney, on a fine Spring afternoon after Maxwell Davies had played the harmonium for the tiny congregation in its large bleak Victorian replacement. The old church was surrounded by the graves of centuries, the more recent ones with familiar names, largely of people who lived in houses now ruinous – crofters, fishermen, clerics, sea-captains. Next to it stood the chief farmhouse, the Bu, going back to Viking times. He thought of the lives and deaths encompassed there, expressed through hundreds of years of music in the church, and in the big barn of the farm.
The plainsongs ‘Dies Irae’ and ‘Victimae Paschali Laudes’ are used throughout the work – the first concerning the Day of Judgement, from the Mass for the Dead, the second particular to Easter Sunday and the Resurrection. These are subject to constant transformation – the intervallic contour slowly changes from one into the other, and their notes are made to dance through Renaissance astrological ‘magic square’ patterns.
The orchestra consists of double woodwind, two horns, two trumpets and strings.