As a student at both the University of Manchester and at the Royal Manchester College of Music, he formed a group dedicated to contemporary music, the New Music Manchester, with fellow students Harrison Birtwistle, Alexander Goehr, Elgar Howarth and John Ogdon. His compositions include eight works for the stage, from the monodrama Eight Songs for a Mad King, which shocked the audience in 1969, to Kommilitonen!, first performed in 2011. He wrote ten symphonies, the first from 1973–76, the tenth ("Alla ricerca di Borromini") in 2013.
As a conductor, he was Artistic Director of the Dartington International Summer School from 1979 to 1984. From 1992 to 2002 he was associate conductor/composer with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, a position he also held with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.
Peter Maxwell Davies
The conductor and composer in 2012
|Born||8 September 1934|
|Died||14 March 2016 (aged 81)|
Sanday, Orkney Islands
|List of compositions|
Davies was born in Holly Street, Salford, Lancashire, the son of Thomas and Hilda Davies. At age four, after being taken to a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers, he told his parents that he was going to be a composer.
He took piano lessons and composed from an early age. As a 14-year-old, he submitted a composition called Blue Ice to the radio programme Children's Hour in Manchester. BBC producer Trevor Hill showed it to resident singer and entertainer Violet Carson, who said, "He's either quite brilliant or mad". Conductor Charles Groves nodded his approval and said, "I'd get him in". Davies's rise to fame began under the careful mentorship of Hill, who made him the programme's resident composer and introduced him to various professional musicians both in the UK and Germany.
After attending Leigh Boys Grammar School, Davies 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 on an Italian government scholarship for a year with Goffredo Petrassi in Rome.
In 1959, Davies became Director of Music at Cirencester Grammar School. He left in 1962 after securing a Harkness Fellowship at Princeton University (with the help of Aaron Copland and Benjamin Britten); there 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, 1965–66.
Davies was known as an enfant terrible of the 1960s, whose music frequently shocked audiences and critics. One of his overtly theatrical and shocking pieces was Eight Songs for a Mad King (1969), in which he utilised "musical parody" by taking a canonical piece of music – Handel's Messiah – and subverting it to explore the periods of madness of King George III.
In 1966 Davies returned to the United Kingdom and moved to the Orkney Islands, initially to Hoy in 1971, and later to Sanday. Orkney (particularly its capital, Kirkwall) hosts the St Magnus Festival, an arts festival founded by Davies in 1977. He frequently used the festival to premiere new works (often played by the local school orchestra).
Davies was Artistic Director of the Dartington International Summer School from 1979 to 1984. From 1992 to 2002 he was associate conductor/composer with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, a position he also held with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, and he has conducted a number of other prominent orchestras, including the Philharmonia, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. In 2000 Davies was Artist in Residence at the Barossa Music Festival when he presented some of his music theatre works and worked with students from the Barossa Spring Academy. Davies is also Composer Laureate of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, for whom he wrote a series of ten Strathclyde Concertos.
He was awarded a number of honorary doctorates, including Honorary Doctor of Music from Oxford University in July 2005. He had been President of Making Music (The National Federation of Music Societies) since 1989. Davies was made a CBE in 1981 and knighted in 1987. He was appointed Master of the Queen's Music in March 2004 but, in a break from the tradition of lifetime tenure, his appointment was limited to ten years. He was made a Freeman of the City of Salford August 2004. On 25 November 2006, he was appointed an Honorary Fellow of Canterbury Christ Church University at a service in Canterbury Cathedral. He was Visiting Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, and in 2009 became an Honorary Fellow of Homerton College, Cambridge.
Davies was one of the first classical composers to open a music download website, MaxOpus (in 1996). The site became temporarily unavailable after the arrest in June 2007 of Michael Arnold (one of MaxOpus's directors) on fraud charges arising from money missing from Davies's business accounts. In October 2008 Arnold and his wife Judith (Davies's former agent) were charged with the theft of almost £450,000. In November 2009, Michael Arnold was sentenced to 18 months in jail. MaxOpus was relaunched earlier in 2009.
Davies was openly homosexual throughout his adult life.
He was known by friends and colleagues as "Max", after his middle name "Maxwell".
In 2005 his house on Sanday was raided by police, who removed parts of a whooper swan (a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act) which Davies had been planning to eat; he stated he had found the swan electrocuted beneath power lines.
In 2007, a controversy arose regarding his intended civil partnership when he was told that the ceremony could not take place on the Sanday Light Railway. He later abandoned his plans. He remained with his partner Colin Parkinson until their relationship ended in 2012.
Davies was appointed Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in the 2014 New Year Honours for "services to music". He died from leukaemia on 14 March 2016, aged 81, at his home in Orkney.
Davies was an atheist.
Davies was a life-long supporter of gay rights and a Vice-President of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality.
Davies had a keen interest in environmentalism. He wrote The Yellow Cake Revue, a collection of cabaret-style pieces that he performed with actress Eleanor Bron, in protest at plans to mine uranium ore in Orkney. It is from this suite of pieces that his famous instrumental chanson triste interlude Farewell to Stromness is taken. The slow, walking bass line that pervades the Farewell portrays the residents of the village of Stromness having to leave their homes as a result of uranium contamination. The Revue was first performed at the St Magnus Festival, in Orkney, by Bron, with the composer at the piano, in June 1980. Stromness, the second largest town in Orkney, would have been two miles from the uranium mine's core, and the centre most threatened by pollution, had the proposed development been approved.
Davies's appointment to the post of Master of the Queen's Music was initially controversial, as he was a republican. However he confirmed in 2010 that close contact with the Queen had converted him to monarchism. He told The Daily Telegraph, "I have come to realise that there is a lot to be said for the monarchy. It represents continuity, tradition and stability."
He was a member of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) and the Incorporated Society of Musicians.
Davies was a prolific composer who wrote in a variety of styles and idioms over his career, often combining disparate styles in one piece. Early works include the Trumpet Sonata (1955), written while he was at college, and his first orchestral work, Prolation (1958), written while under the tutelage of Petrassi. Early works often use serial techniques (for example Sinfonia for chamber orchestra, 1962), sometimes combined with Mediaeval and Renaissance compositional methods. Fragments of plainsong are often used as basic source material to be adapted and developed.
Pieces from the late 1960s take up these techniques and tend towards the experimental and to have a violent character. These include Revelation and Fall (based on a poem by Georg Trakl), the music theatre pieces Eight Songs for a Mad King and Vesalii Icones, and the opera Taverner. Taverner, again, shows an interest in Renaissance music, taking as its subject the composer John Taverner, and consisting of parts resembling Renaissance forms. The orchestral piece St Thomas Wake (1969) shows this interest and is a particularly obvious example of Davies's polystylism. It combines a suite of foxtrots (played by a twenties-style dance band), a pavane by John Bull and Davies' "own" music (the work is described by Davies as a "Foxtrot for orchestra on a pavan by John Bull"). Many works from this period were performed by the Pierrot Players, which Davies founded with Harrison Birtwistle in 1967; they were reformed as the Fires of London in 1970, then disbanded in 1987.
After his move to Orkney, Davies often drew on Orcadian or more generally Scottish themes in his music, and has sometimes set the words of Orcadian writer George Mackay Brown. He has written a number of other operas, including The Martyrdom of St Magnus (1976), The Lighthouse (1980, his most popular opera), and The Doctor of Myddfai (1996). The ambitious, nihilistic parable Resurrection (1987), which includes parts for a rock band, was nearly twenty years in gestation.
Davies was interested in classical forms, completing his first symphony in 1976. He wrote ten numbered symphonies – a symphonic cycle of the Symphonies Nos.1–7 (1976–2000), a Symphony No. 8 titled the Antarctic (2000), a Ninth Symphony (premiered on 9 June 2012 by the Royal Liverpool Symphony Orchestra), a Tenth Symphony (see below), a Sinfonia Concertante (1982), as well as the series of ten Strathclyde Concertos for various instruments (pieces born out of his association with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, 1987–1996). In 2002, he began work on a series of string quartets for the Maggini String Quartet to record on Naxos Records (the Naxos Quartets). The whole series was completed in 2007, and was viewed by the composer as a novel in ten chapters".
Davies's lighter orchestral works have included Mavis in Las Vegas ( A title inspired by a Las Vegas hotelier's mishearing of "Maxwell Davies" and registering him as "Mavis".) and An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise (which features the bagpipes), as well as a number of theatre pieces for children and a good deal of music with educational purposes. Additionally he wrote the scores for Ken Russell's films The Devils and The Boy Friend. His Violin Concerto No. 2 received its UK premiere on 8 September 2009 (the composer's 75th birthday) in the Royal Albert Hall, London, as part of the 2009 season of The Proms.
On 13 October 2009, his string sextet The Last Island was first performed by the Nash Ensemble at Wigmore Hall in a 75th birthday concert for the composer. His Symphony No. 10 had its world premiere at the Barbican Hall, London on 2 February 2014.
Throstle's Nest Junction, opus 181 (1996), and A Spell for Green Corn – The MacDonald Dances both had their London premiere at the BBC's Maida Vale studios, broadcast live on Radio 3 with the composer's participation on 19 June 2014, in celebration of his 80th birthday. The music was played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and presented by Petroc Trelawny.
The last months of his life, as he struggled with terminal illness, showed continuing creative power and energy. There was The Hogboon (op. 335, a children's opera), the epiphany carol A Torrent of Gold, and the short choral work The Golden Solstice. He was working on a String Quartet (op.338) at the time of his death; only the first movement was completed.
| Master of the Queen's Music
An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise is a classical orchestral composition by the English composer Peter Maxwell Davies. It is notable for being one of the few pieces in classical repertoire to feature a bagpipe solo.
One of Davies's lighter pieces, it lasts for approximately twelve minutes, and vividly depicts the riotous celebrations after a wedding on Orkney. The piece closes with the entry of the bagpipes, which Davies describes as symbolic of the rising sun over Caithness. In concert performance, the piper, dressed in traditional Scottish regalia, is required to enter the hall from the back, parading to the stage and taking the soloist's position only as the piece concludes.
It was written to a commission by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, who premiered it under John Williams on May 10, 1985. It has since been performed and recorded many times (twice by the composer himself) and has been established as one of Davies's most enduringly popular pieces.Caroline Mathilde (ballet)
Caroline Mathilde is a two-act ballet to music by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Its original choreographer was Flemming Flindt in 1991.
It tells the story of the eighteenth-century English princess Caroline Mathilde (sister of George III), who was sent to Denmark aged 15 to be married to the 17-year-old schizophrenic Danish King, Christian VII. The ballet portrays her unhappy marriage, the King's growing madness and her fatal love-affair with Struensee, the King's influential physician, which ultimately leads to their arrest, his execution and her exile at the age of 20, separated from her two young children.
As with Davies' earlier ballet, Salome, it was a commission by the Royal Danish Ballet. It was first performed on 14 March 1991 at the Royal Danish Theatre, Copenhagen. The orchestra was conducted by Markus Lehtinen.
Davies prepared two Concert Suites, each based on an act of the ballet.Eight Songs for a Mad King
Eight Songs for a Mad King is a monodrama by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies with a libretto by Randolph Stow, based on words of George III. The work was written for the South-African actor Roy Hart and the composer's ensemble, the Pierrot Players. It was premiered on 22 April 1969.
Lasting half an hour, it is scored for a baritone with an extraordinary command of extended techniques covering more than five octaves, and six players (Pierrot ensemble + percussion):
flute (doubling piccolo)
percussion (1 player): railway whistle, snare drum, 2 suspended cymbals, foot cymbal, 2 wood blocks, bass drum, chains, ratchet, tom-toms, tamtam, tambourine, rototoms, toy bird-calls, 2 temple blocks, wind chimes, crotales, sleigh bells, glockenspiel, steel bars, crow, didgeridoo
piano (doubling harpsichord and dulcimer)
celloThe songs derive from tunes played by an extant mechanical organ owned by George III, tunes that he attempted to train bullfinches to sing:
The Sentry (King Prussia's Minuet)
The Country Walk (La Promenade)
The Lady-In-Waiting (Miss Musgrave's Fancy)
To Be Sung on the Water (The Waterman)
The Phantom Queen (He's Ay A-Kissing Me)
The Counterfeit (Le Conterfaite)
Country Dance (Scotch Bonnett)
The Review (A Spanish March)The action unfolds as a soliloquy by the king, the players being placed on stage (ideally) in large birdcages, and climaxes in his snatching and smashing the violin.
The score is published by Boosey & Hawkes, and its cover shows a famous excerpt in which the staves are arranged like the bars of a birdcage.Besides Hart, exponents of this work have included William Pearson, Michael Rippon, Thomas Meglioranza, Julius Eastman and Vincent Ranallo. The Swedish baritone Olle Persson performed the work in Stockholm in the 1990s. The British baritone Richard Suart has performed the piece in Gelsenkirchen‚ Milan‚ Helsinki‚ Strasbourg‚ Stavanger and Paris; in 1987 The Musical Times described Suart's take as "compelling from start to finish". Welsh baritone Kelvin Thomas sang the role at Munich's Kammerspiele Schauspielhaus in 2011, and in a production by Music Theatre Wales in 2013.Kommilitonen!
Kommilitonen! (Young Blood!, or Student Activists, literally Fellow Students!) is an opera by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. The libretto is by David Pountney, who was also the director of the premiere performances in March 2011.List of compositions by Peter Maxwell Davies
Peter Maxwell Davies, an English composer and conductor, wrote music in many genres, notably ten symphonies and works for the stage, from the monodrama Eight Songs for a Mad King (first performed in 1969) to The Hogboon (scheduled to be performed in June 2016).His official catalogue includes more than 334 works starting with his Op. 1 in 1955, but there are also about fifty earlier works dating back as far as 1942—regarded as juvenilia—and around a hundred minor mature works, designated by "WoO" (Werke ohne Opuszahl = Works without Opus number). These numbers were not assigned by the composer, but rather were first established only in 2010.He sometimes based his music on Mediaeval and Renaissance motifs and themes such as the opera Taverner, on the composer John Taverner. After his move to Orkney, he often used Orcadian themes, for example in An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise for orchestra with bagpipes. Interested in classical forms, he composed series and cycles of works. The first seven of his ten symphonies form a cycle. He composed several concertos, including a Trumpet Concerto and a series of ten Strathclyde Concertos for different instruments, sometimes in combination. Of his fourteen string quartets, ten form a series, the Naxos Quartets which he regarded as a "novel in ten chapters".Naxos Quartets
The Naxos Quartets are a series of ten string quartets by the English composer Peter Maxwell Davies.
They were written between 2001 and 2007 to a commission from Naxos Records. In 2001 the Maggini Quartet was appointed to record all ten for the record label. The first quartet was premiered by the Magginis at the Wigmore Hall on 17 October 2002. In a talk before the premiere of No. 1, Davies said his quartets would be like "chapters in a novel".Not all of the quartets have explicit extra-musical references, although the landscape and culture of Davies' adopted Orkney remain ever present. Davies has stated that the Third Quartet is a manifestation of his feelings of outrage at the invasion of Iraq in 2003. By contrast the Fourth Quartet, subtitled Children's Games, takes as its inspiration Pieter Bruegel the Elder's eponymous painting of 1560. The Fifth Quartet uses a motif of the flashing of lighthouses on Orkney. The Seventh Quartet is a tribute to the Baroque architect Francesco Borromini, and the Eighth Quartet, based on John Dowland’s Queen Elizabeth’s Galliard, is dedicated to Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her eightieth birthday.The string quartets are not Davies' first work in the genre: his first published composition was a movement for string quartet, and he produced a mature quartet in 1961. Two Little Quartets appeared in 1980 and 1987. There is also the unfinished final String Quartet (2016, op. 338), of which only the first movement was completed.
All ten quartets are now available on five discs or downloads from Naxos Records.Resurrection (opera)
Resurrection is an opera by the English composer Peter Maxwell Davies. Davies conceived it in 1963 whilst at Princeton University. However, the composer did not complete the opera until over 20 years later. The work received its premiere on 18 September 1987 at the Staatstheater Darmstadt, Germany.
Besides the protagonist, represented by a dummy, there are 23 roles requiring seven singers (mezzo-soprano, countertenor, bass, two tenors, two baritones) and four dancers. The orchestra contains single winds including trumpet and horn, and strings, as well as a backstage brass band. Davies also incorporates a rock band in the instrumentation, in his use of various musical styles.John Warnaby has discussed the relation of the opera to the writings of James Joyce and Thomas Mann.Symphony No. 10 (Davies)
The Symphony No. 10 ("Alla ricerca di Borromini"), Op. 327, is a composition for orchestra, chorus, and baritone soloist, composed by Peter Maxwell Davies in 2013. It was premiered on 2 February 2014 at the Barbican Hall in London, by the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with baritone soloist Markus Butter, conducted by Antonio Pappano (Davies 2014).Symphony No. 1 (Davies)
The Symphony No. 1 by Peter Maxwell Davies was composed between 1973 and 1976, and is dedicated to Sir William Glock, "as a mark of friendship and of appreciation of his work for contemporary music in his years as music controller at the B.B.C." (Davies 1978, 5). It was commissioned by the Philharmonia Orchestra, which gave the premiere of the symphony at the Royal Festival Hall, London, on 2 February 1978, with Simon Rattle conducting.Symphony No. 2 (Davies)
The Symphony No. 2 by Peter Maxwell Davies was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in celebration of its centenary, and was composed in 1980. Seiji Ozawa conducted the world premiere with the BSO on 26 February 1981 at Symphony Hall, Boston.Symphony No. 3 (Davies)
The Symphony No. 3 by Peter Maxwell Davies was composed in 1984 on a commission from the BBC Philharmonic, who gave the world premiere on 19 February 1985, at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, with Edward Downes conducting.Symphony No. 5 (Davies)
The Symphony No. 5 was composed by Peter Maxwell Davies in 1994 on commission from the Philharmonia Orchestra, who gave the world premiere under the composer’s direction at a BBC Promenade concert on 9 August 1994, at the Royal Albert Hall in London.Symphony No. 6 (Davies)
The Symphony No. 6 by Peter Maxwell Davies was composed in Hoy during the first half of 1996, and was premiered on 22 June of the same year in the Phoenix Cinema, Kirkwall, as part of the twentieth St Magnus Festival, Orkney, by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the composer. The work was written with specific members of the RPO in mind, and is dedicated to the memory of the poet George Mackay Brown, who died on the day the symphony was completed.Symphony No. 8 (Davies)
The Symphony No. 8 (also called the Antarctic Symphony) is an orchestral composition by Peter Maxwell Davies, completed on 15 December 2001.Symphony No. 9 (Davies)
The Symphony No. 9, Op. 315, is an orchestral composition by Peter Maxwell Davies, composed December 2011 – March 2012, and dedicated to Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her diamond jubilee (Davies 2012).
It was premiered on 9 June 2012 by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Vasily Petrenko (Ashley 2012; Fanning 2012).The Doctor of Myddfai
The Doctor of Myddfai is an opera in two acts composed by Peter Maxwell Davies to a libretto by David Pountney. The work premiered at the New Theatre in Cardiff on 5 June 1996, performed by the Welsh National Opera and conducted by Richard Armstrong. The libretto was adapted from an ancient Welsh legend which inspired The Lady of the Lake. The original tale is reinterpreted in terms of a mysterious disease, knowledge of which the authorities are trying to suppress. The opera takes place in a totalitarian society similar to that envisioned in Orwell's 1984, with a supreme ruler, mechanistic bureaucracy and endless war.The Martyrdom of St Magnus
The Martyrdom of St Magnus is a chamber opera in one act (with nine scenes) by the British composer Peter Maxwell Davies. The libretto, by Davies himself, is based on the novel Magnus by George Mackay Brown. The opera was first performed in St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney on 18 June 1977.The Yellow Cake Revue
The Yellow Cake Revue is a musical composition for piano and voice. Peter Maxwell Davies composed the piece in 1980. He first performed it at the Stromness Hotel, as part of the 1980 St Magnus Festival—a summer arts festival that he co-founded in 1977. English actress Eleanor Bron recited the spoken word portions for the debut performance.The world premiere of the revue was in the Pfalztheater in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on 5 May 1990. It was performed by pianist Andrew Olivant, soprano Jayne Casselman, and Friedrich Schilha.Trumpet Concerto (Davies)
The Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra is a composition for trumpet solo and orchestra by the British composer Peter Maxwell Davies. The work was commissioned by the Philharmonia Orchestra for its then principal trumpeter John Wallace. It was given its world premiere by Wallace and the Philharmonia Orchestra under the conductor Giuseppe Sinopoli in Hiroshima on 21 September 1988.