Peter Maxwell Davies, Revelation and Fall (1966)

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Composer’s notes:

Revelation and Fall was completed in February 1966, to fulfil a commission by the Koussevitsky Foundation. Various instruments in the ensemble have individual amplification systems in certain passages, and some percussion instruments were specially made (by Noah Morris) for the first performance. The soprano part ranges from normal singing, through Sprechgesang, to screaming through a loud-hailer. The setting of the Trakl prose-poem, which was written shortly before his death in 1914, is concerned on one level with ‘period’ colour – for example, in the treatment of the Sprechgesang itself, in passing references to Schoenberg, and even to Lehár, and in occasional references to popular dance-rhythms of the time; but on a deeper level it represents a marked extension in the use of late medieval and renaissance techniques of composition, in comparison with earlier works. In the complexity of rhythmic relationships between simultaneous ‘voices’; in the use of cantus firmus with long melismas branching out, and of mensural canon, the work is more uncompromising, and more demanding on the players.

The form itself is similarly complex, with a network of many interlocking subsections; the ‘chorale-canon’ (piccolo, oboe, first and second violins) before ‘Aus verwesender Bläue’ signifies the end of the Introduction; and its varied repeat after ‘Bitterer Tod’ (which uses a muted trumpet with exaggerated vibrato) represents the end of the main argument with the interlocking structures; while in the recapitulation a new orchestration of the music ‘Ach noch Töne von wilden Gewittern’ is superimposed on a very slow six-part version of the chorale-canon. A coda (‘Und schimmernd fiel ein Tropfen Blutes’), which is for soprano, bassoon and the three percussionists (dulcimer, glockenspiel, handbells), ends the work.

Composer’s note to the revised version, 1980:

My original score for Revelation and Fall called for some unusual percussion instruments, some of which were specially made by Noah Morris for the first performance: for instance, a metal cylinder (resonating chamber) with protruding steel rods of various lengths; a clock mechanism to operate a metal tongue vibrating against resonant sheet of metal, and a knife-grinder. I have now replaced these with more readily available alternatives, as indicated in the instrumentation list (above). In this edition I have also simplified barring and notation in several places.

Notes originally posted here.