Sir Peter Maxwell Davies
CH CBE HRSA (1934 – 2016)
Composer and conductor Sir Peter Maxwell Davies CH CBE HRSA (1934 – 2016) was born in Salford. After attending Leigh Boys Grammar School, he studied at the University of Manchester and at the Royal Manchester College of Music. Graduating in 1956, he studied on an Italian government scholarship for a year with Goffredo Petrassi in Rome.
In 1959, he became Director of Music at Cirencester Grammar School. He left in 1962 after securing a Harkness Fellowship at Princeton University. He then moved to Australia, where he was Composer in Residence at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, University of Adelaide, 1965–66.
He 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.
Returning to the United Kingdom in 1971, he moved to the Orkney Islands, initially to Hoy in 1971, and later to Sanday. After his move to Orkney, Sir Peter often drew on Orcadian or more generally Scottish themes in his music, often in collaboration with his friend, Orcadian writer, George Mackay Brown. He founded the St Magnus Festival in Orkney in 1977 and frequently used the festival to premiere new works.
Sir Peter 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, he 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. He was 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. He 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 in August 2004. In 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.
In 1996, Davies was one of the first classical composers to open a music download website, MaxOpus.
He was appointed Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in the 2014 New Year Honours for “services to music”.
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies was elected an Honorary Member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 2001.