Sir Peter Maxwell Davies CH CBE (1934-2016)
14th March 2016
Recognised as a successor to the avant-garde generation of Ligeti, Lutosławski, Berio and Xenakis, as well as a composer of a distinctly British hue, Sir Peter’s output embraces every conceivable classical genre from symphonies and concertos to opera, music theatre, ballet, film, choral and more.
He was also an experienced conductor, holding the position of Associate Conductor/Composer at both the BBC Philharmonic and Royal Philharmonic orchestras for 10 years, and guest-conducting orchestras such as the San Francisco Symphony, Leipzig Gewandhaus and Philharmonia. He enjoyed a particularly close relationship with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra as Composer Laureate.
Born in Salford, Lancashire on 8 September 1934, Sir Peter attended Royal Manchester College of Music (now Royal Northern College of Music) where he was part of the so-called Manchester School with contemporaries Harrison Birtwistle, John Ogdon, Elgar Howarth, Richard Hall and Alexander Goehr. He later secured a Fellowship at Princeton where he studied with Roger Sessions and Milton Babbitt. The 1960s were an especially formative decade, establishing him as a leading contemporary musical figure.
In 1971 Sir Peter moved to the Orkney Islands, the place which would be his home for the rest of his life. The landscape and culture had a deep impact on his music and in 1977 he founded the St Magnus Festival, an annual event with Orkney residents at its heart.
Sir Peter had a lifelong commitment to community outreach and education, writing much music for young people; his children’s opera The Hogboon will receive its world premiere in June 2016 with Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at the Barbican. His keen sense of social responsibility was threaded through many of his works, touching on major issues such as war, the environment and politics.
Sir Peter held the post of Master of the Queen’s Music from 2004–2014. He was knighted in 1987 and made a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour in the New Year 2014 Honours List. In February 2016, Sir Peter was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal, the highest accolade the society can bestow, in recognition of outstanding musicianship.
Max (to all who knew him) passed away of leukaemia on 14 March 2016 at his home in Orkney. Our thoughts are with his loved ones at this time.
James Rushton, Managing Director, Chester Music comments:
With Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' passing this country has lost one of its principal cultural barometers of the last 50 years. For those of us who care about the place of good music within British culture and education Max's voice was so often the rallying cry. But, of course, his voice only carried weight because of the unique qualities of his own work – a musical voice that was entirely and absolutely his, extraordinarily direct, emotionally varied and magnificently structured.
My last meeting with Max was after a performance last autumn of The Lighthouse, that remarkable piece of story-telling and operatic murder-mystery, in which the overwhelming strength of the characterisation is almost claustrophobic. Max, already ill, retained the glint in his eye that seemed at one and the same time to approve of those who offered insightful comments and be dismissive of those who missed the point, and was still a welcoming magnet for groups of young people and their cameras. Max will be missed more than we know.
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies was managed by Intermusica. His music is published by Chester Music Limited, Boosey & Hawkes and Schott Music.
Download the full press release here, which includes tributes, current and archive images, video material and a complete biography.
Photo: Martin Lengemann