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Last Updated: Monday, 15 October 2007, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
New Christmas carol for the Queen
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies
Sir Peter was given the honorary role three years ago
A new Christmas carol set in Orkney has been written for the Queen by her official composer.

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies has based the carol on a work by his late friend, the renowned Orcadian poet George Mackay Brown.

The carol will be sung to the Queen and other members of the Royal Family at a private Christmas service in London.

It will be performed by the choir of the Chapel Royal at St James's Palace, accompanied by just an organ.

Sir Peter - or "Max" as he is widely known - was appointed as the Queen's Master of Music in 2004. Among the official duties of the composer, who lives on Sanday in Orkney, is to write a Royal carol every Christmas.

It will remind the Queen of Scotland - and Orkney in particular - at Yuletide. Scotland is a place very close to her heart
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

He has based this year's carol on Mackay Brown's poem Hamnavoe Women and the Warbeth Bell: Midwinter, which opens with the lines: "One said, 'I thought I heard on the stone a midnight keel.' (It was the Yuletide bell.)"

The 14-line poem is one of several Christmas poems written by Mackay Brown, and extracts from it have appeared on Christmas cards before.

Sir Peter said: "The poem is set in Orkney and I was thinking of Orkney when I wrote the music, so it is very much an Orkney carol for Her Majesty.

"Christmas was one of his [Mackay Brown's] passions and inspirations. He never lost the child-like wonderment of Christmas - especially an Orkney Christmas.

"So it will remind the Queen of Scotland - and Orkney in particular - at Yuletide. Scotland is a place very close to her heart."

Mackay Brown is recognised as being one of Scotland's greatest 20th Century writers, but was often seen in the same duffel coat walking down the streets of Stromness.

'Celebratory piece'

He first met Sir Peter, whose previous works include the operas Taverner and The Lighthouse, on Hoy in 1971. They became close friends and collaborated regularly until the poet's death in 1996.

On the day Mackay Brown died, Sir Peter completed his 6th symphony which he dedicated to his friend. He also played at the poet's funeral.

Archie Bevan, the literary executor of Mackay Brown's estate - and a lifelong friend of the poet - said: "George was fascinated by Christmas and the rhythm of the Christian calendar in general. It was a subject he returned to many times in his work and it clearly has inspired Max.

"The poem has an enduring quality which refers to Stromness Beach on the fringe of the cemetery which had a monastery in medieval times.

"It is a celebratory piece and I think George would probably have a wry smile that it has ended-up a Royal Christmas carol because he was celebrating the religious significance rather than the secular - and he was a devout Catholic."

The honorary position of Master of the Queen's Music was created in 1626. The holder of the title is tasked with writing music for special royal or state occasions.

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