My life with Max: A memoir by his manager

My life with Max: A memoir by his manager


norman lebrecht

August 26, 2017

Judy Arnold, who looked after Peter Maxwell Davies for 31 years, has written a memoir of their time together and posted it at the Orkney Library and Archive.

The memoir is extremely detailed and highly revealing of Max’s working methods and his personal relationships.

It breaks off before the legal action that Max took against Judy’s husband, Michael, because this, she says ‘occurred after I ceased to work for him.’

You can access the memoir here.

Here’s how it begins:

I first met Peter Maxwell Davies (hereinafter referred to as Max) at the Dartington Summer School of Music in Devon in August 1970. I was there at the invitation of John Amis, and my job as a volunteer was to look after the artists who taught and performed there. I had been the personal assistant of the Polish pianist and composer
André Tchaikowsky for several years during the nineteen-sixties, and in this capacity I had been to Dartington, where André was a great favourite, both as a pianist and a teacher.

One of the concerts that summer at Dartington was given by an ensemble called The Pierrot Players. The main item on the programme was Vesalii Icones, a theatrical work with a dancer, and the group. I was very struck by the work, which was composed by Peter Maxwell Davies.

However, it was another member of the group, the composer Harrison Birtwistle, who took me aside, and asked me if I would consider being his personal assistant, in the same way as I had done for André. I accepted his offer, although I did not know anything about what a composer did. Harry, for so Harrison Birtwistle was always
called, took me to meet the other members of his group, and these included Max. It was thus that I first came into direct contact with Max. My association with Harry only lasted for one month. However, I was now intrigued
by Max’s music and I started to attend the concerts by the group, which had now changed its name to The Fires of London. These concerts were held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. I was also present at the world premiere of Max’s opera Taverner at Covent Garden in July 1972. I became friendly with two members of the ensemble – Stephen Pruslin, the American pianist, and Mary Thomas, the soprano.

In the summer of 1975, Steve Pruslin phoned me and asked if I would consider being in charge of the newly-formed Friends of The Fires. This had been set up to try to get as many people as possible interested in the work of The Fires. As I was by now an ardent fan, I accepted. One of my first concerts in this new capacity was at the Victoria and Albert Museum in July 1975. This was a series of concerts, initiated by the director Roy Strong, and they were held at night after the general public had disappeared. The main work on this programme was Max’s Ave Maris Stella which
had recently been first performed at the Bath Festival two months earlier. I was completely overcome by this major chamber music work. I astonished myself to find, while compiling my eight Desert Island Discs that Ave Maris Stella had entered into the list, along with Bach’s B Minor Mass and Beethoven’s Op. 110 piano sonata.

Then there was another call from Steve. This time it was the offer of another short-term job with The Fires. He asked if I would be the road manager for a two week tour of the U.K. in November. I told Steve that I didn’t have the slightest idea what anything like that would entail. Steve assured me that it was very easy. The group would be going to twelve different towns, and all I had to do was to see thateverything was in order when I got there. Well, that didn’t sound too onerous, and it might be fun, and I would be hearing a lot of concerts by The Fires. So I accepted. I
requested that I should have all the paper-work connected with the tour.

Then, on 1 October, the phone rang, and this time it was Max, in his very quiet telephone voice. He asked me if I would go over to see him as he had something to discuss with me. I told my husband Michael that I thought I knew what this something would be. In the years since I had worked for André and for that short while with Harry Birtwistle, several artists had asked me to work for them, but I very disinclined to do so.

I went straight over to see Max at the flat he had just bought as his London base which was almost bang opposite King’s Cross Station. Both Max and Steve were there. There was not a stick of furniture anywhere. We sat on the floor. The proposition was put to me that I would become the manager of The Fires of London, and also Max’s manager. I told them that I had absolutely no experience of any sort in this field of activity. My experience with André for all those years was not as a manager, but as a personal assistant, to keep the diary and things in order. I had never gone out to find work for André, as that was done by his various agents around the world. I was assured that there would be no problem with any of that, because the work just arrived of its own accord, and there was plenty of it. I asked how The Fires were financed, and the reply was ‘out of the kitty’.

All of this seemed, on the fact of it, to be satisfactory. I said that I would need a while to think about this, as it would be a long-term commitment as far as I was concerned. Max said he would wait and would phone me in a few weeks to find out my answer. I did think about it a great deal. Then Max phoned me from Orkney on 19 October, which happened to be my fortieth birthday. I said that I would give it a go. After all, ‘life begins at forty’. Michael then spoke to Max and said that he would help me as far as business matters were concerned. I told Max that we should both give it try for a six-month period. If either of us felt unhappy, then we could withdraw, and there would be no hard feelings.



  • John Borstlap says:

    Interesting…. a touching picture from the exciting days when hitherto unplumbed depths of the human psyche were gleefully explored. Strangely enough, after half a century we cannot say it did quite catch-on, in spite of its aspirational nature:

    The critics loved it though, with a discrete eye on Nicolas Slonimsky’s “Lexicon of Musical Invective”.

  • James says:

    “It breaks off before the legal action that Max took against Judy’s husband, Michael, because this, she says ‘occurred after I ceased to work for him.’ ”

    Although it breaks off before the _conviction_ for fraud against the husband occurred, it covers the period 1990-2006 during which the fraud (apparently amounting to around £500,000) was actually taking place. So it’s surreal to read a memoir which discusses extensively the way in which the couple dealt with the composer’s financial affairs, but which apparently does not mention the fraud.

    Is it generally believed that Judy Arnold was aware of the fraud?

    Here are some excerpts from the memoir:

    “I especially thank my husband, Michael, for helping me throughout the thirty one years I worked as Max’s manager, and also for reading through and proofing this account and correcting me where my memory was faulty.”

    “The financial aspect of managing was completely done by Michael. When I spoke to
    Max on the phone to accept the offer of being his manager, Michael also spoke to
    him, and said that he would help in all financial matters, and this was done the whole
    way through.

    When a date for The Fires would come up, it was Michael who drew up the budgets,
    and discussed everything with the promoters, and negotiated the contracts. Where
    Max was to take part in a documentary programme, Michael would arrange all the
    conditions, including the travel and accommodation, as well as the fees involved.
    Michael negotiated all the commission contracts. Michael would chase up when the
    next instalment of a particular contract was due. He would also keep track of all the
    royalties which were due from the various sources: from the three publishers, from the
    MCPS Mechanical Copyright Protection Society) and the PRS (Performing Right

    When anything new was proposed to Max, such as a commission, or a new position,
    or to be President of a particular organisation, I would discuss it with Max himself to
    see which way he wanted to go, and Michael would talk to him about the financial
    aspect. We would both give our advice. Max was invariably compliant with our
    suggestions, and did not offer any kind of difficulty or opposition.”

    “Throughout, Michael fixed everything to do with the buying and selling of his various
    properties, arranging the mortgages, dealing with the bank and setting up the Trust
    which would come into operation on Max’s death.”

    • John Holroyd says:

      And two years on, no Trust! Where is it, Max’s estate must have been worth a pretty penny by the time he died in 2016, he used to talk about using his money to build a Music school for working class kids to be classically trained – where has that gone to? All very odd.

  • Richard Gibbs says:

    “I especially thank my husband, Michael, for helping me throughout the thirty one years I worked as Max’s manager,” says Judy Arnold – and for helping himself too, she could have added as her husband was jailed for defrauding Sir Max out of nearly half a million pounds. How disingenuous can Judy Arnold be?

  • Hilary says:

    On balance I’d say the advantages of what Michael and Judy offered outweighed the disadvantages. As ever, the situation is more complicated than it may first appear.

    • daveferre says:

      Very true about things being more complicated. Some have said Judy was a better manager then Max was a composer and she did wonders for his career. It’s true enough that mistakes were made but they were also corrected and with interest, but Max would not withdraw his case against Michael and off Michael went to jail, even with full payment for these mistakes. I say Max was not a nice man and he was lucky enough to have the help of Judy and Michael for all these years. Most just see some kind of newspaper headlines and jump to an easy conclusion but it’s not so easy. Thanks to Judy for writing all this down about working for Max.

      • James says:

        The point about repayment is strange (I guess that’s what you mean by “corrected with interest” – the same point is made in the newspaper article linked to in the post above). The fact that somebody gives a thing back after being caught with it is not a reasonable defence to a charge of stealing the thing in the first place. So in normal circumstances the “correction” should make no difference to whether Michael went “off to jail” as you say.

        So indeed there was a conviction for fraud. When you say that things are complicated, do you mean that there wasn’t actually a fraud, and the conviction was mistaken? Is there anywhere one can get a fairer understanding of the situation, beyond “it’s not as easy as it seems”?

    • Woodstok says:

      Are you saying the benefit of their management outweighed being defrauded of half a million pounds and having his house mortgaged without his knowledge? On top of their rightful salaries too. Two disgusting human beings, and a frankly dishonest account.

      • John Holroyd says:

        Who the hell paid him half a million quid is what I want to know? Nobody listens to this style of Music and it’s strange if he made so much money, why has promotion of his Music virtually dried up and his website shut down? I used to sit in on rehearsals for a lot of contemporary Music, just weird, they would rehearse for 8 hours, an orchestra of more than 120 people sometimes, all being paid 30 quid an hour minimum as well as their concert fee and the audiences were half empty. just weird and then Max’s own fees as a conductor and composer, where did all that money come from because it wasn’t from ticket sales or CD sales? I think an investigation should be done as to how all this money even came about.

  • Guy Bebb says:

    Mmmmm. Two crooks if l am not mistaken. Will always remember them demanding fees for Max on works yet unwritten, but under contract. He had no idea and they insisted on ten’s of thousands upfront. Yes, they might sue me, but l and the auditors have the paperwork. So go right ahead.

    • daveferre says:

      You are mistaken about Judy and Michael being crooks. There is nothing unusual for fees for works to be written and as a leading composer, these fees could be quite high. No one’s going to sue you, that’s for sure.

      • Woodstok says:

        Plenty unusual about stealing over £500,000 from your employer and mortgaging his house without his knowledge to fund your gambling addiction though.

    • John Holroyd says:

      Too right Sir, Max needs people like you to keep his legacy alive, am furious as to why since he died there is so much inactivity. I was Max’s friend for 20 years, he spoke of using his money to create a trust, to be ploughed back into his Music after he died, nothing! Max got ripped off by everyone even up to the end. You sound like a person who knows how to research things, please, look into why Maxopus has vanished, Max was very proud of that website and it was awesome.

      Mr. Bebb, please try to get in contact with me, am determined Max’s work will not be forgotten, I wasn’t disparaging of his Music when I mentioned the pieces he used systems, in fact admiring Max for being savvy!

      Since Max went, I have smelt a rat with everything since, I stayed with him at the RAM in 2015 after he got his award, he was in good form, we drank wine and had good chat, he thought he had beat his cancer but was very blunt:- when he died his estate was to be ploughed into music. This doesn’t appear to be happening.

  • John Holroyd says:

    Max had much more material comforts than many much better composers than himself, Judy Arnold enabled him to compose much more freely, many pieces he composed he didn’t even write them, I saw this, the Naxos quartets paid him an absolute fortune, the 6th one was generated by an algebra grid that had no connection to anything in his head. The partner Max had, Colin, was a trouble causer and wanted the Arnold’s out of Max’s life, a few times when drunk and Max had gone to bed, Colin would sit there talking about when Max died what he would do with Max’s money. Colin turned out to be abusive and a waste of time, had Max kept Judy Arnold on and resolved the financial stuff, his post death career would be a lot more flourishing than it currently is, with his website now dead and virtually no attempt to have is music better understood and known.

  • Tim Morrison says:

    Judy is more than entitled to have her say and I am glad she has done. Whatever happened between them all is in the past – and best left there. Criminal proceedings took place. Judy did not have a case to answer. Michael did. He has served his sentence and he deserves for it all to be in the past. He has paid his debts.

    Colin is dead – he cannot answer for himself – and no one deserves this kind of comment.

    John Holroyd, I am horrified what you have said about the origination of Max’s music, indeed that someone who claimed to be his friend would say this kind of thing in public. I don’t need to imagine what Max would have said about this – but I know he would have been angry and upset at seeing you discussing his private life like this.

    • John Holroyd says:

      It’s the truth. He used number grids which decided the pitch order of those compositions, even durations and structure. I can demonstrate how he arrived at the finished pieces if you like, am preparing a set of studies based on the pieces created like this. It’s just amazing the people who paid all that money for pieces of Music that were auto composed. Am amazed none of the musical experts around him didn’t tell Naxos because you can hear they are composed by an exterior system.

      What happened to the Maxopus website too? That mysteriously has vanished with all the audio, and there seems to be little promotion of his Music these days? I know he had a load of compositions he never published in his study, surely his management should be having these performed and known?

      I know Max also kept a lifelong diary going back to childhood, it would be fascinating, musically, for a publisher to print this?