Diamond Jubilee Celebratory Blog; Master of the Queen’s Music – Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen's Music, with the Queen at Buckingham Palace

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (pictured above with the Queen, photo courtesy of John Stillwell/PA Wire) is the present Master of the Queen’s Music and I wrote about the significance of this position in my last blog post. Born in 1934, Maxwell Davies has been at the forefront of British contemporary music for more than 50 years and has published over 200 works.

Davies studied at the University of Manchester and at the Royal Manchester College of Music (amalgamated into the Royal Northern College of Music in 1973), where his fellow students included Harrison Birtwistle, Alexander Goehr, Elgar Howarth and John Ogdon. Together they formed New Music Manchester, a group committed to contemporary music. After graduating in 1956, he studied on an Italian government scholarship for a year with Goffredo Petrassi in Rome.

In 1962, he secured a Harkness Fellowship at Princeton University, with the help of Aaron Copland and Benjamin Britten, where he studied with Roger Sessions, Milton Babbitt and Earl Kim. He then moved to Australia, where he was Composer in Residence at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, University of Adelaide from 1965–66.

On returning to the United Kingdom he moved to the Orkney Islands, initially to Hoy in 1971, and later to Sanday, where he lives with his partner Colin Parkinson. Orkney hosts the St Magnus Festival, an arts festival founded by Davies in 1977. He frequently uses it to premiere new works.

Davies was Artistic Director of the Dartington International Summer School from 1979 to 1984 and has held a number of posts. From 1992 to 2002 he was associate conductor/composer with the Royal 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 Davies 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. Davies is also Composer Laureate of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, for whom he wrote a series of ten Strathclyde Concertos.

Maxwell Davies has received a number of honorary degrees and was made a CBE in 1981 and knighted in 1987. Davies was one of the first classical composers to open a music download website, MaxOpus, (in 1996).

Davies 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. Davies is a prolific composer who has written music in a variety of styles and idioms over his career, often combining completely different styles in one piece.

In 2004 he was appointed Master of the Queen’s Music (a post he will relinquish in 2014), in which role he seeks to raise the profile of music in Great Britain, as well as writing many works for Her Majesty the Queen and for royal occasions. Davies has written a long list of royal compositions, from 80th birthday  celebrations to annual carols for the Chapel Royal.

Now he’s marking the Diamond Jubilee with his Ninth Symphony, commissioned in  honour of its regal patron by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and due  to get its premiere in Liverpool on 9th June. It will also be performed at the Proms on 23rd August.

I love this work, Farewell to Stromness, which is arranged for guitar in this performance.


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