Peter Maxwell Davies

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

Peter Maxwell Davies died at his home in Orkney on 14 March 2016, aged eighty-one, following a battle with leukaemia.

A selection of articles about Peter Maxwell Davies

Classical music news. Creativity, Innovation and Re-invention - Classical Music Daily's April 2021 Newsletter has just been published as a video podcast

Ensemble. Varied in Tone and Style - Mike Wheeler listens to twentieth-century British music played by Derby Concert Orchestra

Classical music news. Obituary - Martin Wesley-Smith (1945-2019)

CD Spotlight. Sensational - Maxwell Davies from the Hebrides Ensemble, recommended by Roderic Dunnett. 'As an approach to Maxwell Davies' music, this could scarcely be bettered.'

Ensemble. A Refreshing Novelty - Marimba duo G-Mizz, heard by Mike Wheeler

CD Spotlight. A Fantastic Collection - Little-known harpsichord gems, strongly recommended by Alice McVeigh. '... succeeds utterly, as does the immaculately sensitive [Penelope] Cave.'

Ensemble. Cogent Achievements - Peter Maxwell Davies' tenth symphony and other British music, heard by Roderic Dunnett

Ask Alice - On 'La Forza del Destino', music education and realpolitik, with classical music agony aunt Alice McVeigh

Ensemble. Jaw-droppingly Compelling - A Sciarrino and Maxwell Davies double bill from Music Theatre Wales, by Mike Wheeler

Ensemble. Taking Risks - English Touring Opera's Autumn productions, reviewed by Roderic Dunnett

CD Spotlight. A Sovereign Recording - Maxwell Davies' Symphony No 2, recommended by Howard Smith. '... dynamic in all respects.'

Ensemble. Hope for the Future? - Roderic Dunnett experiences Peter Maxwell Davies' new opera 'Kommilitonen!'

Ensemble. A Slow-burn Approach - 'The Lighthouse' by Peter Maxwell Davies, reviewed by Mike Wheeler

Ensemble. Thought-provoking - Music by Harle and Maxwell Davies, heard by Malcolm Miller

CD Spotlight. Compositional Mastery - Maxwell Davies' Naxos Quartets 9 and 10, applauded by Howard Smith. '... much to admire ...'

CD Spotlight. Sovereign Horn Territory - Music for horn and orchestra, recommended by Howard Smith. '... stunning breath control and consummate understanding ...'

CD Spotlight. A Surefire Winner - A recital by Lin Jiang and Benjamin Martin, recommended by Howard Smith. '... superbly performed.'

Ensemble. In Memory of Hickox - Vaughan Williams' 'Sancta Civitas', reviewed by Robert Hugill

Ensemble. Rebuilt City - Malcolm Miller enjoys the first performance of Judith Weir's choral-orchestral work, 'Concrete'

Ensemble. Fizzing Performances - The Derby Concert Orchestra and Chorale in Christmas mood, reviewed by Mike Wheeler

Ensemble. Renewal and Revitalisation - Malcolm Miller enjoys the London Jewish Male Choir's 80th anniversary concert

Ensemble. Great panache - Derby Concert Orchestra plays Maxwell Davies, reviewed by Mike Wheeler

Ensemble. Old and new - The first public appearance of a new chamber choir, reviewed by Mike Wheeler

Ensemble. Their Majesties' Music - Pippa Hare listens to the Choir of the 21st Century

Premature conclusions? - Alistair Hinton replies to Robert Hugill on the subject of composers and sexuality

Composers and sexuality - Robert Hugill asks what effect sexuality can have on the art of writing music

CD Spotlight. Ascending slowly - Chamber music by Peter Maxwell Davies, reviewed by Patric Standford. '... played with accomplished precision ...'

Ensemble - Swashbuckling parody. Roderic Dunnett attends the Hungarian première of Maxwell Davies's Expressionist opera 'Resurrection'

The Turn of the Tide - Roderic Dunnett reports on a Maxwell Davies European continental première in Vatroslav Lisinski Hall, Zagreb, Croatia

Summer Opera Reviews - Roderic Dunnett looks back at a thumping good summer for opera festivals in Britain and Ireland. Part 4 - Mr Emmet Takes a Walk