Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

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Suite from The Devils

For instrumental ensemble

audio sample: Suite from The Devils
opus number: 19b
completion date: 1971
duration: 25 minutes
movement titles: 1. Titles
2. Sister Jeanne's Vision
3. The Exorcism
4. Execution and End Music
scoring: Flute (+ alto flute and piccolo), clarinet (+ bass clarinet), trumpet, trombone, *percussion (3 players), Hammond organ (+ out-of-tune upright piano and celesta), violin (+ viola and regal organ), cello, double bass

*percussion (3 players):

percussion 1: timpani, 4 suspended cymbals, temple gong, 4 wood blocks, chains, bamboo whistle, foxtrot kit, thunder-sheet, tam-tam, large tabor, tambourine, Indian temple jingles;

percussion 2: marimba, small suspended Chinese cymbal, flexatone, lion's roar, tam-tam, grater, small bass drum, untuned zither, nightingale, rubber plunger in water, large bass drum, cycle wheel

percussion 3: thunder-sheet, 4 suspended cymbals, 4 pieces of scaffolding, small bass drum, grater, blackboard (scraped with fingernails), knife and plate (to be scraped), upright piano, tam-tam
world premiere: 11 December 1971, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
The Fires of London, Peter Maxwell Davies conductor
publisher: Chester Music
category: Instrumental work
difficulty level: 4
programme note: Short Note by Paul Griffiths

Separated from the horrific images of Ken Russell's film, Davies's music is violent and brooding on its own terms. The first of the four movements in an unsettling sombre Andante featuring solo alto flute; then comes 'Sister Jeanne's Vision', a frenzied movement incorporating segments of chant. 'Exorcism' is a musical picture of extreme corruption resolved in a prayer, and the finale includes the maniacally jerky execution music together with a postlude where the flute is now in relief.

Extended Note I by Guy Protheroe ©

Peter Maxwell Davies wrote the incidental music for Ken Russell's film The Devils in Orkney in November 1971.

In an alternative version of the suite's three sections from Peter Maxwell Davies's music for The Devils precedes contributions David Munrow made to the film - realizations of the Dies Irae and contemporary seventeenth-century music that would have been available in France.

Of the initial three sections by Peter Maxwell Davies, the first is the Fantasia on the Dies Irae - sister Jeanne's 'obscene' vision of Père Grandier as Christ, walking on the water towards her. The second section is the meeting of Sister Jeanne with Père Mignon.

The third section is The Exorcism, and that is followed by two arrangements by David Munrow: music by Praetorius, for the King's ballet, and music by Gervaise as Grandier is dragged to the stake. The fourth and final section is again music by Peter Maxwell Davies: Père Grandier's execution by burning at the stake.

© Guy Protheroe

This is a copyright note, and may not be reprinted or reproduced in any way without prior permission from the author.
composer’s note: The incidental music for Ken Russell's film The Devils was written in Orkney in November 1971. I had retreated to the island with a list of film footage converted into timings, a set of stills from the film to remind me of the contents of each scene, the script, and a metronome and stop-watch. Rather than work on the principle of composing music to coincide with specific points in the action on visual cue - whereby in the recording session, when the conductor sees a certain physical movement on the cue screen he places a certain musical event with it, beating at a given speed so that the next coincidence of physical movement with a given point in the music should be more or less automatic (if it's not he speeds up or slows down a bit!) - I decided to measure the whole thing out in bars of given speeds (suitable for the action), doing the necessary arithmetic to make it as exact as practicable, and composing within that rhythmic framework the sort of isorhythmic structure I enjoy working with in my concert music. With this method, the conductor records the music to the film shown on a cue screen, with a 'click track' in his ear over headphones, which gives the exact speed of the beats of the section - very necessary when accuracy to a fraction of a second is required.

The forces used are small - the basic instrumentation of The Fires of London (flute, clarinet, violin doubling viola, cello, keyboards, percussion) plus trumpet and trombone, two more percussion players, and double bass, with, in one number only, two saxophones. Ken Russell and I agreed that it would be as interesting to get as much mileage - change of mood, timbre, etc. - out of a small group, with the aid of varying recording techniques, as to use a full orchestra - and much more economical.

To a film composer, Russell is easy and pleasant to work with - which is as well, since the maker of a film is at a great disadvantage, in that he has no idea how the music will sound or fit until the actual recording session. But Russell and I discussed the music at great length before it was written, together with David Munrow, even to the extent of sending each other up: as when, in the filming of the horrifying and spectacular grand finale of Père Grandier's execution, with hundreds of extras, Russell shouted above the hubbub, 'I think a bit of thick Bb on trombones there, Max. Must be Bb.' I even got a bit of extra film footage on this scene - musically it would have ended too abruptly, and it required time to cadence properly, so I obtained a few more seconds to allow this, which must be almost unprecedented. One irritation during composition was constant visits by the island postmaster with telegrams to say the censor had cut out several more feet of film, which meant constant rethinking and modification of the isorhythmic schemes.

The sections in the suite are:

1. The fantasia on the Dies Irae - Sister Jeanne's 'obscene' vision of Père Grandier as Christ, walking on the water towards her.
2. The meeting of Sister Jeanne with Père Mignon. This sequence starts with a fight between two women, one a nun, which Russell and I decided would go splendidly to a foxtrot on the plainsong Ave Mari. But when it eventually was seen in context it was too shocking, so the music was ultimately faded in after the fight; the sequence is basically concerned with Sister Jeanne's erotic sentiments towards Père Grandier.
3. The Exorcism.
4. Père Grandier's execution by burning at the stake.
recording: Aquarius, Nicholas Cleobury conductor
Collins Classics 10952

Aquarius, Nicholas Cleobury conductor
Collins Classics 14442
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