The Kennedy Center

Peter Maxwell Davies


Peter Maxwell Davies, a British composer was born in Manchester in 1934. He was a fellow student of Birtwistle, Alexander Goehr and the pianist and composer John Ogdon in Manchester. Peter Maxwell Davies went on to study in Italy with Petrassi. This was followed by a short but influential period teaching at a school in England. He later studied with Roger Sessions and others at Princeton.

He made an innovative addition to the theatrical dimension of music, developing the idea behind Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire. Since the early 1970s, when he moved to the remoteness of the Orkneys, he has developed a less experimental musical language, also writing works associated with the community in which he finds himself.

He was knighted in 1987 and appointed Master of the Queen's Music in 2004.  He co-founded the contemporary ensemble The Fires of London and was its musical director (1970 – 87). He wrote many of his works for the group. He wrote many musical theatre works and conducted orchestras worldwide. His most famous compositions are Eight Songs for a Mad King (1969) and An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise (1985); his other works include Miss Donnithorne's Maggot (1974); the operas Taverner(1968), The Martyrdom of St. Magnus (1976), and The Lighthouse (1980); eight symphonies; and numerous concerti.
His finest achievements have a depth of symbolism and historical reference rarely encountered elsewhere in contemporary music. He has cultivated various styles, from the unbridled Expressionism of his music-theatre pieces of the late 1960s to the majestically unfolding landscapes of his later orchestral works. He has gained considerable popularity with his lighter pieces, many of them inspired by the folk traditions of Orkney. He has also made a significant contribution to music education in Britain.
Peter Davies