With deep sadness we report that Sir Peter Maxwell Davies passed away earlier this week at the age of 81. One of the most prominent composers of our time, Maxwell Davies had a profound impact with his wide ranging, prolific compositions.
His work embraced every conceivable classical genre from concertos to symphonies to opera, musical theatre, ballet, film, choral and more. He was seen as a successor to the avant-garde generation of Berio, Ligeti, Lutoslawski and Xenakis as well as being distinctively British.
Born in Salford, Lancashire on 8 September 1934, Sir Peter went to the Royal Manchester College of Music – which is now called the Royal Northern College of Music – where he was the Manchester School along with composers such as Harrison Birtwistle, John Ogdon, Elgar Howarth and Alexander Goehr. He later went onto securing a place at Princeton where he studied with Roger Sessions and Milton Babbitt.
In 1971 Maxwell Davies moved to the Orkney Islands which would become his home for the rest of his life. The landscape profoundly affected his work and in 1977 the St Magnus Festival was founded, an annual event with Orkney residents at it’s center.
He had a lifelong commitment to community outreach and education, writing much music for young people – his children’s opera The Hogboon will premiere in June 2016 with Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at The Barbican.
He held the post of Master of the Queen’s Music from 2004-2014, was knighted in 1987 and made a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour in the New Year 2015 Honours List.In February 2016 he was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal, the highest accolade the society can bestow, in recognition of outstanding musicianship.
He passed away of leukaemia on 14 March 2016 at his home in Orkney. He will be sorely missed by the musical community at large and our thoughts are with his loved ones at this time.
The Guardian’s obtituary titled ‘The Enemy of Mediocrity’ can be read here. A guide to his extensive catalogue of music can be found here.