Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

Caroline Mathilde

Ballet in two acts

opus number: 144a
completion date: 1990
duration: 2 hours and 25 minutes
scoring: Cast

Queen Caroline Mathilde
King Christian VII
Johann F. Struensee
Queen-Dowager Juliane Marie
Prince Frederick, the heir presumptive
Colonel Ludwig von Koller
Mme Louise von Plessen
Prime Minister Bernstoff
Ove Guldberg
Count Carl Rantzau
Count Conrad Holck
Gaiter-Catherine, mistress of the King
General Eichstedt
Enevold Brandt
Pastor Christian Schmidt
Doctor Berger


2 flutes (2nd + piccolo and alto flute), 2 oboes (2nd + cor anglais), 2 clarinets in A and Bb (2nd + bass clarinet in Bb),2 bassoons (2nd + contrabassoon), 2 horns in F, 2 trumpets in C, 2 trombones, *percussion (2 players), harp, timpani, strings

*percussion (2 players): glockenspiel, marimba, crotales, tambourine, very small tambourine, very large bass drum, side drum, 4 suspended cymbals (small, medium, large and very large), clashed cymbals, tenor drum, flexatone, thunder-sheet, sandpaper, lion's roar, guiro, jingling johnny, small, very high pitched claves, tam tam, 2 roto-toms, 2 small wood-blocks, 2 small and 1 large temple block, tabor (Provençal long drum), anvil

Female voices (a small chorus of sopranos and alto or two soloists)
world premiere: 14 March 1991, Kongelige Theater, Copenhagen
The Royal Danish Ballet, Markus Lehtinen conductor, Flemming Flindt choreographer, Jens-Jacob Worsaae stage and costume designer, Rose Gad Caroline Mathilde, Nicholaj Hübbe Struensee,Alexander Kulpin Christian VII
commissioner: The Kongelige Theater, Copenhagen
publisher: Chester Music
category: Dramatic work
press quotes:

It became the first world première which will be remembered in the Royal Theatre's history. Flemming Flindt has, with marvellous music by Peter Maxwell Davies, and with steady utilization of dormant and hidden forces in the Royal Theatre, created a performance which shows what the National Theatre is capable of doing when it is doing its best.


programme note: Extended Note by David Nice © 1993

Caroline Mathilde is the second collaboration of Peter Maxwell Davies and Flemming Flindt, following the success of Salome (1978). Danish school children know the story - though not, presumably, all the details - from their history lessons. Fifteen-year-old Caroline Mathilde, sister of one mad king (George III, immortalized by Maxwell Davies and Alan Bennett) was driven into marriage with another - the epileptic, weak-willed Christian VII of Denmark. The results of this ill-starred union are the subject of the ballet's scenario, offering the composer a perfect balance between public corps de ballet dances and a more symphonic treatment of the private drama. Quotations below are drawn from the detailed synopsis of Flindt and Maxwell Davies.

After the dramatic, fateful Overture, which after its second climax introduces us to Caroline Mathilde's wistful melody on solo violin, the curtain rises on the Queen's arrival in Denmark - a shy, withdrawn beginning punctuated by the pomp of the Danish and English entourages, the courtly dance (solo viola, lower strings and tambourine) of the new lady-in-waiting Madame von Plessen with her English opposite number and a changing of the guard (brass/horns). Caroline Mathilde's theme is heard in timorous fragments as she descends from her coach. Scene 2 undercuts the relative normality of the ceremony with a cabinet meeting of the King, his overweening mother Juliane Marie, Bernstoff the Prime Minister and the rest of the cabinet played by puppets. A valse lento, with prominent flexatone underlining Christian's instability as he plays with his tin solders, leads to a pas de trois in which increasingly aggressive brass represent the real wielders of power while sul ponticello violins express the King's 'dependency' on Bernstoff and fear of Juliane Marie.' Left alone, he works himself up into a rage which comes to a frightening point of stasis as epilepsy takes over. Two pages rush out, but the doctor who returns with the king's friend County Holck seems spellbound and is sent away in disgrace. The dissolute Holck suggests to the recovered ruler that they paint Copenhagen red, disguised as sailors; an excited clarinet solo leads to scene 4. The townsfolk's dance in the Hojbroplads is a Landler, complete with 'swoopy, sentimental glissandi' from the violins. The King and Holck brawl with fellow-sailors; the king's mistress Gaiter Catherine dances to her royal counterpart's tune and joins the two men in a 'sexy and outrageous' Pas de trois, another, more glutinous Landler. The crowd objects, a fight breaks out and in the confusion Christian seizes a mace from a drunken night-watchman.

Back at the castle (scene 5), the King prepares to meet his wife; the spotlight moves from bassoon to contrabassoon, and then up to piccolo and flute as he climbs the ladder to his moving pedestal. In scene 6, a well-behaved woodwind march shows the crowd's dutiful approval in the square outside the castle; strings restore gravity as Caroline Mathilde is wheeled on standing on another pedestal. The two musics combine, and the King leaps on to his consort's platform before they return to the castle. There (scene 7) the new Queen is immediately treated grotesquely; a brutal kiss from her consort, a push from her pedestal to shrill laughter from the King. He climbs down, waltzes an ungainly Pas de deux with her and begins to behave even more strangely; in a Pas de quatre, all agitated clarinet runs, Madame von Plessen finally succeeds in extricating Caroline Mathilde from the clutches of Christian and Holck. The King's fury leads to a second epileptic fit: against expressionless 13-part string chords, rushing woodwind depict the furious activity around him. Suddenly the mysterious Doctor Struensee enters as if out of nowhere and miraculously cures the King (soft percussion and brass, a slowing of the action and a simple C major chord). An alto flute solo, 'too sweet to be true', and violin harmonics accompany the procession to the King's bedchamber (scene 8), and Struensee treats the King to a solo trumpet played 'with exaggerated vibrato' : everything is strange and new, nothing more so than Caroline Mathilde's first, resistant meeting with the miracle worker.

The music slowly fades and we are back in the Council Chamber (scene 9) - almost as before, except that Struensee now wields his fluting influence with the King and persuades him not to sign the papers put before him by the Queen-Dowager and the Prime Minister. Brass and percussion face each other as Juliane Marie and Struensee become unspoken enemies on the spot. The mood lightens as Caroline Mathilde wakes up in her bedchamber (scene 10). The most unclouded statement of her theme yet - on oboe in F sharp major - yields to complexity as she reviews the situation (strings) and returns in D minor on cor anglais. Her ladies-in-waiting arrive (allegretto) with a choice of dresses, and to a proud transformation she decides to wear not her royal robes but a bright red riding habit (appassionnato strings), much to Madame von Plessen's dismay. In the riding lesson scene (11) the vivacity of her education in straddle-position riding (under Struensee's guidance, of course) contrasts with Christian's pitiful cavortings (flutes) on a hobby-horse. There is a symbolic meeting of moods before the King rides off and Caroline Mathilde, having embraced Struensee, dances before him to a strange new cor anglais treatment of her theme. The significance of the moment does not pass unnoticed by the attending ladies.

Scene 12, in every way the climax to Act 1, begins with the King preparing for his role as Osman in a court performance of Voltaire's Zaire. He is accompanied by his courtier Count Brandt (a gigue on the flute). Caroline Mathilde is reluctant to join them in a Pas de trois: a solo alto flute creates a sense of ominous anticipation, and the timpani suddenly explode dramatically as she insists on Brandt's departure. The first Pas de deux of the scene, between husband and wife, finally unleashes the King's sexual violence which builds in intensity on savage brass and shrieking piccolos; a lone oboe solo is powerless against it. He leaves, she weeps (solo strings) and when Struensee enters she falls immediately into his arms. The ensuing Pas de deux is a passacaglia initiated by solo cello and devoted to the strings until the rest of the orchestra adds another turn of the screw in ascending patterns. The tension is increased by irregular heartbeats on the timpani and a final fortissimo question-mark.

Scene 13 takes place in a public square. The mood of the crowd has changed. In 'a vulgar and aggressive corps de ballet dance of raw vitality', townsfolk wield crude banners depicting Caroline Mathilde and Struensee. A more lightly scored middle section has street actors make the public knowledge more explicit: the player King (oboes) converses with the player Caroline Mathilde (flute and clarinet with her theme) until the King's madness drives his consort into the lewd embraces of Struensee - they 'copulate flagrantly'. More general ribaldry is followed by the arrival of the real Caroline Mathilde who appears on the bridge at the back of the stage; to delicate writing for flute, marimba, harp and solo cello, the pregnant Queen 'plays happily with the three-year-old Crown Prince'. Struensee furtively enters but is seen by the crowd and an angry outburst leads to a flight. Order is restored and the stage clears; across it, in conspiratorial fashion, glide Juliane Marie and representatives of the church, army and court. They hold their meeting inside a church (scene 14) and discuss a coup d'état to overthrow Struensee and Caroline Mathilde. The Queen-Dowager clearly leads the way, first with powerful strings and later with imperious, snapping brass as the other conspirators seem to falter. The leaders express their hope of triumph in a Pas de six.

The long, central scene (15) of the act is a masked ball. The guests arrive in black cloaks and white masks to a self-important double-dotted theme (Adagio pomposo); the inherent tensions of this gavotte underlined by the fact that the leading couples are the doctor and the Queen, the Queen-Dowager and her son, the heir presumptive Prince Frederick. A fanfare leads to the pantomime of the Voltaire play for which we saw the King rehearsing. He now appears in his role as sultan, his accompanying cor anglais launching into a dance with the accompaniment of a small tambourine; other woodwind take the principal roles, and at the climax of the pantomime the fanfare peals out again. Other general dance carries the tensions one stage further as the underlying power struggles are represented by rival musical interests. There follows a ball-scene Pas de deux with a difference, announced by a recitative-like cadenza for marimba and harp; again Caroline Mathilde and Struensee dance to a powerful passacaglia, though fittingly it begins more ripely than the first and reaches a climax which expresses fully the 'provocative, beautiful' nature of a love fulfilled. Instead of conventional variations, the next number is a bizarre waltz in which court ladies encircle the drama of Juliana Marie pursuing (trumpet, later persistent brass), and the King trying to evade her. Then, to a reprise of the scene's opening ceremony, Caroline Mathilde, who has been dancing with Prince Frederick, leave with Struensee and the other guests depart without their masks but their faces covered by their black cloaks.

The crisis now moves to a head. Soldiers bar all entrances to the ballroom; in a feverish mood, as if part of his own nightmare (scene 16), the King dances around the stage in a night-shirt and play-prop turban, trying to warn the sleeping Caroline Mathilde and Struensee of impending disaster. Soft staccato chords reveal the silhouettes of the conspirators as they move to the three beds, to a trumpet solo, the court group surrounds Caroline Mathilde, the military encircles Struensee and the clergy heads for the King. One by one, they wake up, Caroline to a ff statement of her theme which continues as they dance a 'Pas de trois manqué', unable to reach each other. Another climax is reached as Juliana Marie gloats over the arrests, and in the subdued aftermath the King is forced to sign the sentences and death warrants. The action faces to another nightmarish scene (17). A wordless, lamenting female chorus (two solo voices), harp and low strings accompany the strange vision of a castle garden with statues and snow falling. To frightening outburst from thunder-sheet and flexatone, the King dances jerkily around decapitating the statues; as a march to the gallows is seen in the distance, the head of the last statue turns out to be Struensee's. The last song, though, belongs to Caroline Mathilde (scene 18), separated from her children before the coach carries her away into exile. Clarinet and solo flute remind us of her theme and of Act 1, Scene 1, dying away into the vanishing mists of violas, and finally, a lone cello.

This is a copyright note, and may not be reprinted or reproduced in any way without prior permission from the author.
synopsis: The ballet is set in Copenhagen in the late 1760s.

It has been arranged that the fifteen-year-old English princess Caroline Mathilde is to marry the seventeen-year-old Danish king, Christian VII. Arriving with her retinue at the border of Denmark, she is received by officials of the Danish court. She is immediately stripped of everything, from her clothes to her ladies-in-waiting. The helpless, weeping girl is then left in the court's care.

Soon Caroline Mathilde is confronted with her husband-to-be, who is eccentric and practically insane, and after her marriage the young queen is shy and lonely. She is introduced to Struensee, her husband's new personal physician. They are attracted to each other and spend more and more time together. But eavesdroppers lurk in every corner.

Struensee's influence increases as the King's insanity becomes more marked and his epileptic fits more frequent. Soon Struensee is not only the King's physician and political adviser but also Caroline Mathilde's lover.

Neither the people nor the court approves of the intimate relationship between Caroline Mathilde and Struensee. People dance through the streets with satirical banners showing the two lovers, while the Queen-Dowager Juliane Marie and her son, Prince Frederick - declared enemies of the couple (and the King) - are outraged. Struensee's excessive influence on the easily manipulated King is also seen by the Queen-Dowager and the Prince as a threat to their own positions; therefore they, with the help of the army, organize a conspiracy to remove Caroline Mathilde and Struensee.

After a ball, the army strikes: Caroline Mathilde, Struensee and Christian VII are surprised in their beds. Caroline Mathilde and Struensee are arrested. Struensee is sentence to death and beheaded; Caroline Mathilde is exiled.

The Danish queen, Caroline Mathilde, now twenty years old, reaches the Danish border, where English and Danish soldiers are assembled. She is stripped of everything she has been given and is finally deprived of all that remains to make her life meaningful - her two children. She is forced into a coach, and as it disappears into the mist, she is seen reaching desparingly and powerlessly for the little Crown Prince running in vain after her. Christian VII is left in his helpless situation, subject to the triumphant supremacy of the Queen Dowager.
additional information: Background Essay by Erik Kjersgaard ©

Denmark at the Time of Caroline Mathilde

In the mid-eighteenth century the kingdom of Denmark was going through a time of promising progress. It was regarded as one of Europe's smaller countries, but though parts of it had been lost to Sweden, it still included the kingdom of Norway, the old Norwegian tributary countries of Greenland and Iceland and the two largely German dukedoms of Schleswig and Holstein. Peace reigned and it was the government's aim to keep out of all armed conflicts. That was of particular benefit to shipping; overseas trade with China, India and America flourished. The population grew. Agriculture, which had been beset by difficulties for over a century, was beginning to recover and there was even a gradual introduction of reforms to make the underdeveloped farming system more efficient and to improve the situation of the peasants, by far the greater part of the population.

The king was an absolute ruler: in theory he ruled alone and was answerable only to God. Rather than regarding themselves as Danes, Schleswigers or Norwegians, the entire population was united in the idea that they were above all loyal citizens. The king rules for the common good, independent of special interests, and he was the object of unanimous and monotonous homage.

Virtually all threads were gathered in the seat of the monarch in Copenhagen, a capital still small enough to be a hotbed for gossip but larger and richer than ever before. It was a new city, rebuilt after a disastrous fire and constantly expanding. Large-scale trading was at the root of Copenhagen's economy and merchants left the strongest mark, but in addition there were numerous artisans and a few industries (particularly weaving and sugar refining), a large garrison, a navy, a theatre and university. Copehangen was as hetrogeneous as the kingdom: people spoke Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, German and, if they wished to be fashionable, French.

The centre of the capital was the vast Christiansborg, a royal castle so large that its courtiers and servants would have populated a medium-sized town. Everyone's attention focused on the king. But behind the grand appearance, the monarchy had in fact been put out of action - though few realized it - partly by a comprehensive independent bureacracy and partly because Frederick V was too feeble to discharge his most basic duties. The power was discreetly administered by a handful of ministers, mostly German-born but endowed with the title of 'count' and made Danish landowners.

It made little difference that Frederick V died in 1766 and was succeeded by the seventeen-year-old Christian VII. He was intelligent but odd, preoccupied with strange amusements. That he was suffering from incipient insanity was not yet known. The ministers thought that marriage would steady him, so a politically suitable union was arranged with the very young English princess Caroline Mathilde. It did not have the intended effect.

Frederick V could not reign; Christian VII would not, yet he was still the source of power, erratic though he was. Anyone who gained influence on the unbalanced young man could achieve anything. It was dangerous, particularly at a court where no holds were barred for the ambitious.

Into this wasps' nest stepped the young German doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee, well liked by the king, who felt safe with him, and placed in this position by court schemers who thought he was their puppet. Struensee was no less ambitious than many others, and when it became apparent that he was attractive to the young, neglected queen - might even become her lover - he decided to seize the power that virtually fell into his hands.

Earlier the country and the court had been influenced by evangelism, with its solemn ideals of piety and morality. But there was now a reaction against it, a pragmatic fascination with Enlightenment ideals and common sense, a liberation from inhibiting tradition, which might take the form of private diversions or an active interest in social reform. The aim was to make oneself useful, promote the common good and enjoy the fruits.

As a man about town Struensee seemed ideally suited to the frivolous court life, but it was something else that attracted him to it: the dream of power and being able to realize all the ideas he had acquired as a community physician and writer in Altona. It was a dangerous game, for though Christian VII was an absolute rulter, he did not have the right to surrender his power to others (indeed, under the Act of Succession it was nothing less than lèse-majesté for anyone to be given or abrogate royal power). Frederick V's ministers had managed to evade that by pretending that they were merely carrying out the king's will. But the act did not provide for a situation in which the king was insane and would not even supply a signature.

In this difficult but convenient siutation, Struensee became sole Privy Councillor and any order issued in his name was law. The orders positively flew from his desk and their value has been discussed ever since. It is indisputable that had his laws introduced reforms, he would have revolutionized Denmark in a few months. The central administration was rationalized - superfluous officials dismissed, procedures streamlined - and it was Struensee who 'invented' the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. To force savings, he reduced the army, disbanding regiments that were more ornamental than useful.

Customs duties on goods were lowered or abolished and the peasants' villein service to landowners was reduced. On the other hand, a number of traditional church festivals were removed from the calendar to prevent the people becoming idle. Large and small reforms came thick and fast, from the reorganization of street lighting in Copenhagen to the abolition of censorship; anything could now be said and published in print without restriction. The intentions were good, but nothing had been thought through and the reaction was violent.

The appointed ministers grumbled, officials raged, officers swore vengeance, soldiers demonstrated and the Copenhagen factory workers, who lost their jobs when cheap imported goods flooded into the country, joined the chorus. The peasants forgot to be grateful for the reduced villein service and instead gathered to pray, for what would God say to the abolition of church festivals? And the writers who had been given a free rein made themselves the mouthpiece of the discontent, trumpeted court gossip, appealed to cheap indignation and scored points on xenophobia - an emergent patriotism directed at the 'German scoundrel'.

However, the decisive moment came with a conspiracy to overthrow Struensee, formed at the capricious court. Disappointed schemers and ambitious officers gathered round the Dowager- Queen Juliane Marie, the king's stepmother, who could legitmize a coup d'état.

On the night before 17 January 1772, when the court was sleeping off a masked ball, the conspirators struck. The king was woken and frightened into signing papers he could not read: warrants for the arrest of Struensee, the queen and Struensee's collaborator Enevold Brandt. Under military escort, the queen was sent to Kronborg (Elsinore castle), the other two taken to the citadel and proceedings were instituted against all three. Struensee was sentenced to death for lèse-majesté, Brandt for violence against the king. The judges abided strictly by existing legislation, but doubtless pronounced the sentences confident that when the law had been given its due, justice would be done with a pardon. After all, the king's condition was well known among the initiated.

But no pardon was forthcoming. The new government, originating directly from the conspiracy, knew that the king in an unguarded moment might recall Struensee. So the barbarous end-game was played out - a public execution on the common outside Copenhagen to the gloating exultation of the mob.

The settlement with the queen, on the other hand, could not be final because the relationship with England forbade it. The Danish people had to be content with a divorce and accept that Caroline Mathilde went into comfortable exile in Hanover, George III's German dukedom. There she lived for three years, longing for her children, Crown Prince Frederick and Louise Augusta. Her early death was a relief to a Danish government familiar with the art of danger and intrigue.

Christian VII was left with a group of new ministers who now had to administer for the madman and thus commit Struensee's crime. In a lucid interval, the king ran his eye over the gathering and said 'Nothing but stupid devils'.

This is a copyright note, and may not be reprinted or reproduced in any way without prior permission from the author.
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