Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

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Caroline Mathilde: Concert Suite from Act I of the Ballet

For orchestra

audio sample: Caroline Mathilde: Concert Suite from Act I of the Ballet
opus number: 144b
completion date: 1991
duration: 25 minutes
movement titles: 1. A Public Square
2. Inside the Castle
3. The Queen's Chamber
4. The Royal Chambers
scoring: 2 flutes (2nd + piccolo and alto flute), 2 oboes (2nd + cor anglais), 2 clarinets in A (2nd + bass clarinet), 2 bassoons (2nd + contrabassoon), 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, *percussion (2 players), timpani, harp, strings

*percussion (2 players): clashed cymbals, suspended cymbals (small and large), glockenspiel, flexatone, bass drum, anvil, tam-tam, crotales
world premiere: 12 July 1991, Town Hall, Cheltenham (Cheltenham International Festival)
BBC Philharmonic, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies conductor
commissioner: Ballet commissioned by the Kongelige Theater, Copenhagen
dedication: Flemming Flindt, choreographer of the ballet
publisher: Chester Music
category: Orchestral work
press quotes:

Davies's response to the scenario - based on the historical fact of Caroline Mathilde's arranged marriage with the deranged Christian VII of Denmark and her subsequent affair with his doctor - is sharp and instinctive, overly theatrical but also deeply lyrical. Elements of distortion and pastiche add characteristic flavour to a brilliant score.

The Times

programme note: Short Note by Paul Griffiths

Davies's second full-length ballet concerns the unhappy history of an eighteenth-century British princess married to the eccentric and epileptic King Christian VII of Denmark; in keeping with the period, and perhaps also with the traditions of Romantic ballet, the music is relatively simple in harmony and form, and most of the action is conveyed in set-piece dances. The suite, which consists essentially of the second half of Act I, begins with one of these, a bristling interplay of wind and string ensembles in D major, portraying in the ballet a curious nuptial game with the king and princess on movable pedestals. The slow music that follows has to do with the king's healing by Dr. Struensee and the new queen's unquiet reverie (oboe and cor anglais solos). Then the suite, like the act, is capped by a pair of pas-de-deux, the first savage and bizarre for the royal couple, the second rich and passionate for the queen and the miracle-working doctor.

Deutsche Anmerkungen (kurz)

Davies' zweite volle Ballettmusik dreht sich um das traurige Schicksal einer britischen Prinzessin aus dem 18. Jahrhundert, der Gattin des exzentrischen, epileptischen Königs Christian VII. von Dänemark. Getreu dem Stil der Zeit, vielleicht auch eingedenk der Traditionen des romantischen Balletts, hält sich die Musik in Harmonie und Form recht schlicht, und das Handlungsgeschehen vollzieht sich zumeist in festen Tanzstücken. Die Suite, im Wesentlichen die zweite Hälfte des 1. Aktes, beginnt mit einem dieser Tänze, einem borstigen Zusammenspiel der Holzbläser und Streicher in D-Dur: Auf der Bühne läuft ein merkwürdiges Hochzeitsspiel ab, mit König und Prinzessin auf beweglichen Sockeln. Die folgende langsame Musik stellt die Heilung des Monarchen durch Dr. Struensee und die rastlose Träumerei der neuen Herrscherin dar (Oboen- und Englischhornsoli). Die Suite schließt, ebenso wie der Akt, mit zwei Pas de deux -- der erste, wild und bizarr, für das königliche Paar; der zweite, prächtig und leidenschaftlich, für die Königin und den Wunderdoktor.

Extended Note by David Nice ©

An eighteenth-century costume drama might seem like an unlikely sequel to a lurid version of a singularly nasty episode in biblical history. Yet Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and the Danish choreographer Flemming Flindt knew what they wanted from Caroline Mathilde, a full-length ballet to follow their triumphant collaboration on Salome (1978). This singular slice of history, presumably softened if not sanitized in Danish classrooms, could hardly be darker. Fifteen-year-old Caroline Mathilde, sister of that mad King George III already immortalized by Maxwell Davies (before Alan Bennett) in his Eight Songs for a Mad King, was driven into marriage with another - the epileptic, mother-dominated King Christian VII (no dijeridus, train-whistles and raving vocals in this score, although the wildly wailing flexatone and shrieking woodwinds serve very well for this particular case of royal instability). She found consolation and strength in the arms of the influential court doctor, Struensee, but their liaison pleased neither a vindictive populace nor - needless to say - the Queen-Dowager, who headed a conspiracy to have Struensee executed and Caroline Mathilde banished.

It is a powerful story well suited to the detailed scenario provided by Flindt and duly set to graphic music by Maxwell Davies, and the ballet has been a runaway success since its première at the Royal Danish Theatre, Copenhagen, on 14 March 1991. Like all great ballet scores, the full-length Caroline Mathilde would be strong enough to stand on its own in the concert hall. For the moment, however, Maxwell Davies has followed the examples of Bartók and Prokofiev in drawing two suites from the music - and, like Prokofiev, he has kept as skilful balance between relatively straightforward character dancer and long, symphonic stretches of the score.

Events in the first suite are to find their soured, acid counterparts in the second - which is not to say that the mood of the music from Act 1 is always lighter. But it begins with a public ceremonial that seems innocent enough: a well-behaved woodwind march shows the crowd's dutiful approval of the King, wheeled around on a pedestal while servants throw silver coins. A graver mood from the strings announces the entry of Caroline Mathilde, similarly elevated, and the two musics combine. Christian leaps on to his consort's platform before they return to the castle. There (No. 2, comprising the end of the ballet's scene 7 and most of scene 8), he suffers an epileptic fit: against expressionless 13-part string chords, rushing woodwind depict the furious activity around him. This is the point at which the mysterious Doctor Struensee arrives on the scene to effect a miraculous cure (soft percussion and brass, a slowing of the action and a simple C major chord). An alto flute solo, marked in the score 'too sweet to be true', and the violin harmonics accompany the procession to the King's bedchamber, and Struensee's treatment of the King is accompanied by a solo trumpet to be played 'with exaggerated vibrato'. The number ends with the strange, uneasy first meeting of Struensee and Caroline Mathilde - hardly love at first sight.

In the third movement of the suite, The Queen's Chamber, Caroline Mathilde's 'leading motif' appears at its most winsome, on solo oboe in F sharp major, as she awakens. She reflects on her strange marriage and the ever more apparent charms of Struensee (strings) before the melody returns in D minor on cor anglais. The Royal Chambers, much the longest movement of the suite, follows the climactic sequence of Act 1 the closing scene begins with the King preparing for his role as Osman in a court performance of Voltaire's Zaire. He is accompanied by a gigue played on the flute by his courtier Count Brandt. The action moves down to alto flute as the King puts on Caroline Mathilde's riding jacket, before a dramatic explosion of timpani signal her insistence 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 bass and shrill 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 - a movement based on a ground, or single melodic figure that persists throughout - initiated by solo cello and devoted to 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 - to be resolved, and carried to its tragic conclusion, in Act 2.

This is a copyright note, and may not be reprinted or reproduced in any way without prior permission from the author.
composer’s note: 1. A Public Square

We see the population of Copenhagen dancing to welcome the unknown young English Queen: the opening wind music is based on John Dowland's "King of Denmark's Galliard", but updated from its early seventeenth-century style to one appropriate to the actual date of these events. The crowd stops its revels while Caroline Mathilde and King Christian enter the square on giant mobile pedestals. This is their first encounter, and passionate string music expresses their immediate mutual desire, and high hopes of the arranged marriage. The movement closes with this string music, expressing the royal emotions, mingling with the renewed dance music of the crowd.

2. Inside the Castle

The young King is left alone after a cabinet meeting, where all has not gone well for him, the Queen-Dowager having dominated absolutely. He falls into an epileptic fit (expressed through high, running figures in the woodwind) - the servants discover him writhing on the floor, and summon his physician, Dr. Berger. He is unable to cure the King, and is summarily dismissed by Count Holck, who calls upon a doctor new to the court, Dr. Struensee. This new doctor is able to help the King immediately out of his seizure - it seems almost miraculously. (Agitated dissonant figures resolve slowly into a calm major chord.) He dances with the relaxed and grateful King - a slow waltz - and then with Queen Caroline Mathilde, who also expresses her gratitude. We already feel, in the music, Struensee's arousing interest in the Queen, which will culminate in their becoming lovers - but Caroline firmly rejects his still tentative advances.

3. The Queen's Chamber

Caroline Mathilde is alone, in bed, dreaming of her English childhood, so very recently left behind. I invented a Scottish-style melody here, to distinguish her music as clearly as possible from the Danish court music of her new home (the more 'correct' Hanoverian style would have been too close to this). I convinced myself she could well have heard a Scottish tune in the London court, as these were quite fashionable then. The music summarizes the innocence of her dream in a simple oboe tune. As soon as she fully awakes and realizes the awfulness of her situation in Copenhagen - with a mad King as husband, surrounded by hostile strangers - this tune clouds into a minor version, for cor anglais.

4. The Royal Chambers

The King is in bed, attended by Count Brandt. The King is practising for the role of Sultan Osman, in Voltaire's play Zaire (this is historically true), while Count Brandt accompanies him on the flute (we hear a trio for flute, harp and timpani). Queen Caroline Mathilde enters, Brandt is dismissed, and the Pas de deux which follows the change of mood expressed by a short timpani solo (the King becomes psychotically violent) amounts to a rape of Caroline Mathilde by Christian - it is an aggressive, powerful and cruel dance leaving the Queen alone, prostate and defeated, weeping bitterly. Struensee enters and comforts her, and the final Pas de deux of the act (starting with the unaccompanied cello melody) expresses their increasing mutual passion. Caroline Mathilde now fully reciprocates, and Act 1 closes with a long, passionate and triumphant affirmation of their dangerous and fateful love.
recording: BBC Philharmonic, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies conductor
Collins Classics 13082

BBC Philharmonic Sir Peter Maxwell Davies conductor
Collins Classics 14442 (excerpt)
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