Ave Maris Stella (1975) by Peter Maxwell Davies
for flute, clarinet, viola, cello, piano, and percussion

Ave Maris Stella is based not only on the well-known plainsong but also on this setting of a text by Roderic Dunnett, which I use for my Ex Libris sticker.

The nine sections are to be played without a break and the piece is to be performed without a conductor. It is dedicated to the memory of Hans Juda, the late Hon. Treasurer of The Fires, and our very dear friend. It was conceived as a virtuoso vehicle for the group, where each individual part demands new technical resources from the player concerned. For myself, I tackled the purely technical problem of making so rhythmically complex a work practicable without a conductor, who might distract from the chamber music quality of the thought.

The well known Ave Maris Stella plainsong forms the backbone of the music — familiar in settings by Dunstable and Monteverdi among others, 'projected' through the Magic Square of the Moon. Although magic squares are generally seen as permutations of numbers, this is no more true than with bell permutations, which are memorable by their patterns of courses rather than by chains of numbers. I conceive magic squares originally as dance patterns, whose steps pass through 'mazes' and consequently as note patterns, memorable without reference to numbers.

Ave Maris has nine sections, of increasing formal complexity, until No. 7, which has seventeen overlapping subsections, crystallizing in No. 3 into a simple transformation of the first section. All the previous music is planned so as to spiral upwards towards the climactic ninth section, characterized by slow, irregular marimba pulsations.

For me the work has, retrospectively, as well as its elegiac feeling a specially evocative flavour, in that it was the first large work written through a splendid winter and completed in my newly restored house in Orkney, described by George Mackay Brown as "incredibly perched on a high ledge above the Atlantic."

— P. M. D.    

[from program for May 28, 2008 concert]