Sir Peter Maxwell Davies: 1934 – 2016

It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of alumnus Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, on Monday 14 March at the age of 81.

One of the foremost composers of our time, Sir Peter made a profound contribution to musical history in the UK and beyond through his wide-ranging and prolific output.

Peter Maxwell
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.

Professor Adam Gorb, Head of Composition at the RNCM, said: ‘I knew Max in recent years: he never lost his passion for the music that mattered to him and communicating this to the next generation. A great composer, teacher and musical humanitarian.’

Clark Rundell, Head of Conducting, added: ‘Truly the end of an era with the passing of one of the geniuses of our time. Max was effervescent. His energy and enthusiasm was simply infectious, whether he was talking about music, politics, education or the arts in general, he was a huge force for good. It is indeed hard to imagine the musical landscape without him.’

Born in Salford, Lancashire on 8 September 1934, Sir Peter attended the Royal Manchester College of Music in the 1950s 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, who was made an RNCM Fellow in 1978, 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 première in June 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, was knighted in 1987, and made a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour in 2014. In February he was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal, the highest accolade the society can bestow, in recognition of outstanding musicianship.

Sally Groves, RNCM Honorary Member and Former Creative Director of Schott Music Ltd, said in tribute: ‘Max was a truly unique musician. A remarkable composer who created music theatre works of searing power, great symphonies, intense chamber music, works of truly universal popularity. A fierce fighter for music in the community and in education, and on environmental issues. And a man of invincible integrity, a true friend and a teller of truth to power.’

14 March 2016