‘A crazy clutter of the mediaeval, medical mind’: Ken Russell, Peter Maxwell Davies, and Modernist Medievalism in The Devils

Kolassa, Alexander (2021). ‘A crazy clutter of the mediaeval, medical mind’: Ken Russell, Peter Maxwell Davies, and Modernist Medievalism in The Devils. Journal of the Royal Musical Association (In press).

Abstract

Ken Russell’s 1971 The Devils is a shocking historical drama: eclipsed by its battle against censorship, it has only recently had a critical revival. A landmark musical collaboration central to that film remains unexplored; Peter Maxwell Davies wrote the score for The Devils, which is heard in tandem with ‘period’ performances from David Munrow. Though ostensibly historical, the film’s disruptive atemporal style is elevated through an art of stylised anachronism. This collaboration mirrors Davies’ opera Taverner (premiered 1972) not least because that featured Munrow and his Consort too, but also because Russell was supposed to direct its premiere. The article posits Davies’ film score as a compelling work intersecting historicist compositional interests and a challenging aesthetic of excess, with the popular context of mass cinematic spectacle. Informed by the close study of Davies’ own manuscripts, it argues for new ways of understanding the role of a persistent past in the music of a resolutely modernist present.

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