Transformation processes and other compositional techniques in some larger works of Peter Maxwell Davies

Outwin, Daphne (1983) Transformation processes and other compositional techniques in some larger works of Peter Maxwell Davies. (MPhil thesis), Kingston Polytechnic, .


At forty-eight, Peter Maxwell Davies is established as one of Britain's leading composers. Although his works are now heard internationally, there has so far been little detailed study of the procedures within them. Two elements may be recognised as crucial to Davies' thinking: firstly, the incorporation of music and techniques borrowed from the medieval and renaissance periods, and secondly, the evolution of specific methods of transformation. There is a need for an identification of such elements within the music and for an evaluation of their contribution to the shaping of Davies' musical language. The aim of the present study is to discover how these operate within certain larger works, and thereby to gain an understanding of the nature of Davies' compositional thought. Four works form specific areas for study: 'Prolation', 'Taverner'. the 'Second Taverner Fantasia' and the First Symphony. The intention is not an exhaustive analysis of each, but rather a revealing of the essential processes at work. A chronological sequence enables relevant developments to be traced. In addition, the two important elements are discussed separately with reference to a greater number of works. Borrowed techniques are illustrated by a comparison with music of the past, and transformation processes by the use of magic squares. Each is supported by an appendix. It has become apparent from the study that, despite the variety of media within which Davies works, there are certain procedures applied consistently. These involve a fusing of borrowed elements with the composer's own transformation processes, and they play a significant role in the articulation of both local and large-scale structures. In particular, it has been found that a hierarchic system based on the dominance of a transforming cantus firmus is increasingly evident up to the time of the First Symphony.

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