Jaren Hinckley

Composer / Clarinetist


I’m Listening to Everything by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

March 14, 2016



When I was an undergraduate student, I was fortunate enough to be asked to play clarinet in a remarkable avant-garde chamber composition called “Eight Songs for a Mad King” by Scottish composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. It was one of the highlights of my undergraduate life.  We performed it a number of times for a standing-room only audience.  Truly an amazing composition by an amazing composer.  I always felt a kinship to him for a few reasons—1-music, and 2-he lived and worked in the far north of Scotland.  From February of 1988 to January of 1990, I lived in Scotland. I grew to love that country and even to this day, if I hear “O Flower of Scotland” sung with feeling or “Amazing Grace” played on the bagpipes, I get a bit emotional.  For five months, I lived in the Caithness region of Scotland (on a small farm named “Sibmister” located between the small cities of Thurso and Wick).  I have a particular fondness for the northern regions of Scotland.  Sir Peter Maxwell Davies co-founded a yearly music festival—the St. Magnus Festival—in the Orkney Islands where he lived (the Orkney Islands are just a short ferry ride away from Thurso). It was always a dream of mine to perform at that festival. Perhaps it will still happen someday, but one part of that dream was to meet Sir Max. But today that dream has been altered…

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies died today.  Leukemia.  I went to teach my Music 101 (Music History for non-majors) shortly after I found out about this.  I put this picture of him up on the screen

Sir-Peter-Maxwell-Davies--001 (1)

and told the students why his picture was up there (yes, I got choked up—could hardly talk) and played the last few minutes of his simple, beautiful, heartbreaking piano piece “Farewell to Stromness.”


So for this blog entry, I’m not going to say much except, please listen to his (perhaps) most accessible piece and one that will forevermore make me weep as I listen.


I’m Listening to Everything Composed by Felix Mendelssohn

February 12, 2014



For faithful readers of this blog, you may recall that I focused on a piece by Mendelssohn this past December. Here we are in February with another piece by Mendelssohn!  The reason I chose to focus on Mendelssohn is because his birthday is this month (Feb. 3, 1809).  Happy 205th birthday, Felix! For today’s piece, I’m focusing on one of my absolute favorites by Mendelssohn.


TITLE:  The Hebrides Overture “Fingal’s Cave,” op. 26


DESCRIPTION OF THE PIECE:  This piece is what is known as a “concert overture”—a single-movement orchestral piece of program music.  The program of this piece is based on Mendelssohn’s own visit to the Isle of Staffa (off the west coast of Scotland). Staffa is part of a group of islands known collectively as the Hebrides (pronounced Heb’-ruh-deez) made of unusual geometric rock columns formed by volcanic activity. To get to the island, you need to charter a boat during good weather.  Because of the unusual make-up of the island there is no gentle beach on which to leave the boat.  You have to take the boat up close to the rock columns (sticking out of the water) and climb out directly onto the rocks.  If the weather is bad, the water would be too choppy and would crash the boat into the rocks.  On the island there is a large cave which, due to the unusual rock formations, has an unearthly quality to it. The music effortlessly conjures images of the ocean, the rise and fall of the boat as it approaches the island, and the unusual beauty of the island itself.


Here’s a YouTube video of the entire work:



And here’s a YouTube video of the entire work playing on top of someone’s travel footage (not mine, sadly), including the ambient sounds of the ocean, the boat, etc.



HIGHLIGHT:  The powerful programmatic elements.  I’ve never been to Staffa, but it’s not for lack of trying.  When I was living in Scotland (from 1988-1990, serving an LDS mission), I never had the chance.  When I returned to Scotland on vacation with my parents in 1996, we planned to go, but it was raining and no boats were willing to take us on a rainy day (unsafe).  When my wife and I were there in 2000, we headed towards Oban (where we would catch a boat to Staffa) but it was raining and we knew our chances were not good.  However, we noticed on the map that there was at least ONE island (Skye) that was close enough to the mainland that they had built a bridge to it.  So as we drove across the bridge to the Isle of Skye, I wistfully hummed the melody of this lovely piece by Mendelssohn.  Not quite the same thing as being on a boat, but it had to suffice.  Someday I’ll get to Staffa…(sigh)  Maybe next year…


WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY MENDELSSOHN?:  With over 100 opus numbers, I’ve got a ways to go!