Sir Peter Maxwell Davies CH CBE
The death has been announced of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, former Master of the Queen's Music, at the age of 81 years.
Sir Peter, or Max as he was known to many, was born in Salford, Lancashire and was something of a child prodigy. He took piano lessons and composed from an early age. After education at Leigh Boys Grammar School, Max studied at the University of Manchester and at the Royal Manchester College of Music (amalgamated into the Royal Northern College of Music in 1973), where his fellow students included Harrison Birtwistle, Alexander Goehr, Elgar Howarth and John Ogdon. Together they formed New Music Manchester, a group committed to contemporary music. After graduating in 1956, he studied in Rome before working as Director of Music at Cirencester Grammar School from 1959 to 1962.
In 1962, he secured a Harkness Fellowship at Princeton University where he studied with Roger Sessions, Milton Babbitt and Earl Kim. He then moved to Australia, where he was Composer in Residence at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, University of Adelaide from 1965–66. After returning to Britain, he moved, in 1971, to the Orkney Islands, initially to Hoy, and later to Sanday. Orkney hosts the St Magnus Festival founded by Sir Peter in 1977.
Many of his works from this period were performed by the Pierrot Players which Max founded with Harrison Birtwistle in 1967 and later reformed as the Fires of London.
Sir Peter was made a CBE in 1981 and knighted in 1987. He was appointed Master of the Queen's Music in March 2004. Max was a prolific composer whose compositions included opera, choral music, ten symphonies, concertos including the ten Strathclyde Concertos, chamber music including ten Naxos Quartets and piano music.
Although in his early days Max was influenced by the European avant-garde his music from the late 1960s moved towards experimental music such as Revelation and Fall and the music theatre pieces Eight Songs for a Mad King and Vesalii Icones. His opera Taverner shows an interest in Renaissance music. After his move to Orkney, Max’s music took on the influences of the landscape and the Orcadian writer George Mackay Brown.
Other influences were Italian churches, in particular the architecture of Brunelleschi, and magic squares as a source of musical materials and structure.
In the 2014 New Year Honours List he was made a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour for services to music and last month was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal, the highest accolade the society can bestow.
Max’s most recent work was an opera for children called The Hogboon, which will be premiered by the London Symphony Orchestra on 26 June 2016.