English composer and conductor Peter Maxwell Davies was born in Salford on 8 September 1934, and was first enthused by music on seeing Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers when he was four. At an early age he determined he would become a composer. He studied at Manchester University and at the Royal Manchester College of Music.
Roderic Dunnett writes: 'Max's musical origins lay with the European avant-garde of the post war period. He familiarised himself, while still at school, with scores by Berg and Bartók, Webern and Schoenberg, as well as those of Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert; and all of these influences (along with, for instance, that of Bruno Maderna, whose classes Max subsequently attended at Darmstadt, and Roger Sessions, with whom he studied in the United States) had a substantial impact upon his evolving musical persona and his mature approach to composition.
'By the mid-1950s, having been encouraged, along with Harrison Birtwistle, young virtuosi John Ogdon and Elgar Howarth, by composer Richard Hall and their contemporary Alexander Goehr at the Royal Manchester (now Royal Northern) College, and having rounded off a university thesis on the complexities of Indian music, Max was ready to prove himself as a composer. This he immediately did with aplomb: his Five Little Pieces for piano (performed by Ogdon) and Trumpet Sonata (written for Howarth) created a stir in both Manchester and London ...
'Over the course of six decades, Maxwell Davies' status has adapted from enfant terrible to leading cultural figure, playing a key role at the very heart of the British establishment. His appointment as Master of the Queen’s Music in 2004 recognised his influential role as a leading British composer and figure of world standing: it was both a tribute to the revolutionary, yet enabling influence he had upon the public perception of the English contemporary music scene and a launchpad that, along with his presidency or patronage of many centrally important bodies (such as Making Music, the former Federation of British Music Societies), offered him added powers to champion the musical causes about which he felt most passionately.
'Far from being tamed by his new status and responsibilities, Davies remained a geriatric terrible, who frequently spoke out, both in his music and in public forums, on political or social matters with which he felt passionately at odds, such as 'green' issues (with which Max engaged in major works such as Black Pentecost, The Turn of the Tide) and the Second Iraq war, about which he made violent and satirical protest in the third of his ten Naxos Quartets.' (adapted with permission from Roderic Dunnett's 'Life and Career of Peter Maxwell Davies', first published at maxopus.com)
Peter Maxwell Davies died at his home in Orkney on 14 March 2016, aged eighty-one, following a battle with leukaemia.
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