Tuesday, 28 January 2014


Peter Maxwell Davies' Tenth Symphony has it's world premiere on the 2nd of February at the Barbican

'Symphony No. 10, for orchestra, chorus and baritone soloist, tells of the story of the life and death of seventeenth-century Italian architect Francesco Borromini, a leader in the Roman Baroque style, and his rivalry with Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The text of the symphony is drawn from Borromini’s own Opus Architectonicum and poetry by Giacomo Leopardi.'


'Metafore sul Borromini' is the title of Peter Maxwell Davies' Naxos Quartet No. 7 (2005)

'It was as a student in the nineteen fifties in Rome that I first encountered Borromini’s buildings, and with the helpful insights of my friend Giuseppe Rebecchini (the dedicatee of Naxos Quartet No. 4), then a student of architecture, and now a practising architect in Rome, I began to appreciate the extraordinarily original manipulation of space and light in Borromini’s work. More than in any other seventeenth century building, a small space would appear huge, due to exaggerated angles and recesses, and to the pulsating rhythms of decoration. He based his work firmly on late Roman Imperial models – then being discovered and assessed – although the concave and convex curves of his baroque fa├žades are much more dramatic and dynamic than any classical model. It was this constructive relationship between tradition and innovation which intrigued me, and Borromini became an early paradigm - he knew and respected tradition as well as any architect, yet his buildings, carefully starting out from this knowledge, were so original that he was accused of chaotically breaking all the rules...

...Obviously it is impractical to take an architectural structural principle, involving manipulation of space, such as the famous S. Ivo church tower spiral, and make it work in music’s dimension, time. Of course one can take a spiral course through any written matrix of notes, or apply the Fibonacci series (of a spiral) to the structure of musical rhythmic articulation on a small and large scale, as Debussy famously did – but the effect on the ears has nothing in common with the direct and obvious effect of a spiral on the eyes.

An article by Paulo Portoghesi in Italian in 1967 (in Essays in the History of Architecture presented to Rudolf Wittkower published by Phaidon) had shone much light on Borromini’s procedures for me, stimulating related but quite different purely musical parallels. Portoghesi has a relevant list of headings concerning the architect’s relationship with tradition:- translation, inversion, simplification, metamorphosis - and concerning work where Borromini takes off on his own independent non-traditional tangents:- contraction, interpenetration and flexible distortion. I began to examine my own relationship with musical tradition in a much more systematic way than hitherto – this towards the close of the nineteen sixties. '

Very interesting notes by Peter Maxwell Davies on the structural and spatial similarities and differences between music and architecture and how to describe one with the other: