Simon Rattle: Max was my hero

The incoming music director of the London Symphony Orchestra has posted a tribute on its website to the composer, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who died this week. Sir Simon premiered and recorded Max’s first symphony – his commercial record debut – and is passionately devoted to his tenth and last, which received its premiere from the LSO. He writes, inter alia:




Personally he was a hero for me from childhood onwards; as a young teen my parents used to curse him, as I had read that he loved purple and I was therefore unwilling to wear any other colour. Some of the first music I conducted were his chamber pieces: Seven in Nomine and Antichrist. When the Philharmonia asked me to premiere his first symphony in 1978, I felt as though all my Christmases had arrived at once, and I will never forget the thrill of sitting down in his publisher’s office and reading through the score, feeling the visceral power leaping out of the page. His thank you present was typically thoughtful; ‘Simon’, he said, ‘I think your life will be improved by a taste for good wine. I will send you 24 half bottles, 12 pairs of my favourite wines, and you can see what appeals to you. Don’t forget what you are tasting!’  This desire to share pleasure and knowledge was also maybe the key to his music, so often written for friends, or with specific people in mind.  His political activity too was always designed to remind people that music was for everyone and could never be taken for granted – a view he promulgated with passion and sometimes acid wit. He kept his pixie sparkle to the end, and the unwavering intensity of his eyes will remain forever with all of us who knew and loved him.


The LSO have posted a further tribute here.

Peter Donohoe: Max was so extreme he made young Prokofiev seem mild.

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  • The more I hear about Maxwell Davies, the more I wish I knew him. I’ve always admired his music. I would even go as far as to say I love a good deal of it. R.I.P.

  • He told me I should conduct. I responded that I was terrified, and except for himself, all my friends recommended against it. He said “Do it anyway, the orchestra will teach you, don’t miss the chance.” Thank you Max, for loaning me some of your courage on so many points, when I needed it.

  • Not speaking specifically about Peter Maxwell Davies, but more generally – I wonder why many composers seem never to have written a melody that has reached the public and is memorable – that is – people could sing it to me, or I could remember it once heard.

    Everyone knows modernism has been anti-melody, or not capable of underpinning a melody effectively, except in certain rare cases. When Verdi passed away, I could have remembered and sung back any number of things that meant a lot to me…today…not so.

    I honestly do not know if recent composers have written anything memorable AND worthy – it never reaches me through public channels.

    • Staggeringly misinformed comment. Have a listen to Farewell to Stromness by PMD.
      Take a listen to Beethoven 5. The opening movement is one of the most acclaimed pieces of classical music but it’s not really tuneful.

    • Webster, I knew and studied with Max and a few contemporary composers. Melody – or your understanding of it – a tune – is like words – some people can digest a wider variety of literature.

      Max wrote for kids, for virtuoso Musicians, for local people, for Royalty, for friends – his output was vast – he wrote easier listening for limited ears like your own but don’t label eras of Music. Try singing a Bach prelude or Beethovens Grosse Fuga or even some of Bernsteins Music – which was ‘tuneful’ but not for the lay person to whistle in the car on the way to the Mall!

      Max was one of the last connections through Shostakovitch to Mahler to Beethoven to Rennaissance English counterpoint!

  • I hope Simon does tons of Maxwell Davies with the LSO. I’d love to hear the 2nd Symphony and St Thomas Wake. I asked the BBC to repeat the 1969 Proms concert containing the premier of Worldes Blis.

    Max is still here, his music is amazing, truely kaleidoscopic!

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