Just in: Death of a great composer

Just in: Death of a great composer


norman lebrecht

March 14, 2016

It is with great regret that we report the passing today (March 14), at his home in the Orkney Islands of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, one of the leading composers of his time.

Max was 81 and had been ill with leukemia.

Last month, he received Britain’s highest musical honour. He had served as Master of the Queen’s Musick until July 2014.

First tribute: After Max there will be music.

peter maxwell davies


  • Tom Bangbala says:

    So sad to hear this awful news. Max was a close friend to the BBC Philharmonic. We knew he was ill again as he was to have attended our concert last Saturday where we played his ‘Reel of Severn fishermen’ . Despite his exalted place as a great composer and human being he always found time to talk to and befriend the ordinary musicians that played his music and not just the ‘important’ people. We were all important to him. I am so sad that I will never get to have a chat with him again. RIP great man.

    • Tecwyn Evans says:

      Well said Tom, I too was one of those ordinary musicians who quite out of the blue Max took time to talk to and encourage. I will never forget him sitting with my music in the conductors room at the old studio in Manchester, encouraging me to keep composing. He even replied to letters I wrote to him in the following years.

  • Thomas M says:

    R.I.P. “Max” was one of a rare breed among the composers of today in that he always kept the enjoyment of his audience(s) in mind. Sad to hear he has passed. Britain lost a very fine composer today.

  • Jane Susanna Ennis says:

    This is awful news, I loved his music so much. I was able to meet him about a year ago, and tell him how much I love his piano piece FAREWELL TO STROMNESS. I am so sad. Mat he rest in peace.

  • david wilson-johnson says:

    What sad news!…..I first met Max at the curtain calls onstage at the Opera Comique in Paris after my first outing as the Mad King with Boulez’s Ensemble Intercon in the late seventies. He hugged me and whispered in my ear…””.wonderful,, wonderful….but nothing to do with my piece….” Indeed it didnt, but was a new french production and wowed the french audiences there and on subsequent performances. I could have done without performing it on a motorway sliproad , attached dog-like with a long leather chain to the overhead bridge, wearing a pink brasiere and fishnet tights…not particularly regal….so my lasting memory of that George III was brandishing a large cabbage and a leek which served as my orb and sceptre……. The piece fared better in other productions, notably Graham Vick’s, conceived for the Royal Academy of Arts Cushion Concerts and later given in the Edinburgh Festival Tent. I was extremely proud to have been part of many performances with Max directing, especially the farewell concert of the Fires, when as I walked off stage into the back stage area. I was immediately surrounded by security men who tried to stifle my howling, telling me there was a concert going on in the hall …. I think the diminuendo on that occasion was particularly poignant……..

    Many more recollections to follow I think…… I have absolutely .no doubt that his music will live on for future generations of singers, actors, children of all ages……and political activists.

    Thanks Max for stretching the ears and minds of the world.

  • Ian McMillan says:

    Dear, dear Max, What a sad day for the musical world here on earth, but how fortunate are the angels for the music you will now bring them…… May you rest in peace after all your musical labours and your traumatic life of recent years. Thank you for all your creations and friendship to musicians throughout your long life.

  • Simon Dearsley says:

    What a loss! My first and deepest inspiration at Dartington. Such a lovely and insightful man. His first question to the class of would-be composers: ‘Can someone play for me any opening of a Beethoven Symphony’. The 30 or so students sat very quietly. Max grew quite irate. ‘Can no one in this room (the dance studio – a very large room) play the opening to any movement of any Beethoven symphony’. I nervously put up my hand: I was 16, not on the course, but I was Max’s Trog for the composition class. So he invited me to the piano. I played the opening chords to No 3 and the cello theme. He asked did I know another, I nodded. I played the 2nd movement of the 7th, and so it went on for 10 minutes. Max beaming at me with delight. I was thinking that for a mere Trog I was doing well. Max then stood up and dismissed the class, if they did not know Beethoven, he was going to enjoy a lovely week teaching the Simontrog, composition. By the following day the whole class had learnt, memorised almost every note Beethoven had written. Max expressed surprise that they had all appeared, and asked the question again, this time composers were fighting to get to the piano. I retired into the world of being a Trog again, asked him if he wanted some water. When they had all left the previous day Max talked to me about the sounds I heard in my head, the sounds in his head and the sounds Beethoven must have heard in his head. It was the most magical couple of hours. I was touched when I turned 21, he wrote for me a miniature waltz for piano. His influence was extraordinary and will never be forgotten in my life, nor anyone who was touched by his twinkling humour. I also keenly remember him running out of a performance in the Great Hall of Dartington: a ‘cellist was playing Delius, Max was convinced his ears were bleeding from the agony of hearing it. A quirky but vital man.

    • Ppellay says:

      Oh well, Delius was never going to be for everybody. 🙂
      A lovely reminiscence. We’ve lost a giant today………

  • Alex Prior says:

    How sad to lose Peter Maxwell Davies. An extraordinary composer whose legacy will last for a very long time indeed, whose influence will be widespread, whose wonderfully honest and sincere and deeply human music will remain a frequent element on the international stage; and who was one of very few brave enough to stand up for and speak up for Scotland and her independence – a brave move that I know millions are grateful for and that will not be forgotten. And his world-class music will touch many millions more than that. A composer who wrote truly and honestly from the depths of his person, not swayed by desires of populism for popularity’s sake nor obscurity for obscurity’s sake, but just: music.

  • boringfileclerk says:

    Very sad to hear.

  • Rob says:

    I would say the worlds finest modern classical composer has died today.

    I was sixteen years old when I bought the score of St Thomas Wake – Foxtrot for Orchestra. I always wanted to meet Max and ask him about a chord he wrote in this amazing piece, but did not get round it. I had been thinking about him since he disappeared from the news these last few months and last night was listening to his 2nd Symphony.

    It’s a very sad day. We have lost a total genius.

  • J MacMillan says:

    He was one of the great artists of our age. He will be sorely missed. What an exemplar for the rest of us. I feel proud and fulfilled to have known him. JM