Peter Maxwell Davies


  • I'm obviously very keen on the theatre and I think it's inevitable that some of the orchestral and chamber pieces have got dramatic elements which might even suggest an unspecified dramatic plot of some kind or other, even though it's not in my mind at the time.
  • If you don't get feedback from your performers and your audience, you're going to be working in a of Peter Maxwell Davies
  • If you're writing a piece for the Boston Pops, the balance is towards one end. If you're writing a piece for a chamber music society, then it's towards another point. I won't make a final answer on that. I think it changes with every piece.
  • The present government is very insistent that business sponsorship should replace government sponsorship of the arts. Business sponsorship won't happen unless you make tax concessions, which they won't.
  • I know what I want at least, and the older I get I think I'm better at getting it out of players and singers.
  • I'm not actually teaching any more, but I am writing pieces for schools all the time, and for kids.
  • You can't pander to your audience. You might in the short term, but ultimately you can't hoodwink them, either.
  • You don't underestimate either players or audience in any circumstances.
  • What they can expect always is that they're going to be made to think.
  • But when you get a bit older, and I hate to use the word, quite a bit more established, people take more notice and conducting becomes a great deal easier. You don't have battles like you had before.
  • I'm very interested, for instance, in music in education - getting young people not only to listen to, but participate in the music that I write. I consider this one of the most vital aspects of my work.


Peter Maxwell Davies was born in Salford on 8 September 1934, and died at home on Orkney on 14 March 2016 He was both a composer and conductor, and he moved to the Orkney Islands in 1971 and remained based there.

As a student in Manchester, he formed a group dedicated to contemporary music, the New Music Manchester, with fellow students Harrison Birtwistle, Alexander Goehr, Elgar Howarth and John Ogdon. His compositions include eight works for the stage, from the monodrama Eight Songs for a Mad King, which shocked the audience in 1969, to Kommilitonen!, first performed in 2011. He wrote ten symphonies, the first from 1973–76, the tenth in 2013.

As a conductor, he had several positions as conductor/composer for major orchestras, and he directed several festivals of new music, and founded the annual St Magnus Festival on Orkney.

He was openly gay, a socialist and republican, he marched against the Iraq war, and was an early supporter of environmentalism, though he later agreed to become Master of the Queen’s Music after meeting the Queen.

He was a prolific composer who wrote in a variety of styles and idioms over his career, often combining disparate styles in one piece. Early works often use serial techniques (for example Sinfonia for chamber orchestra, 1962), sometimes combined with Mediaeval and Renaissance compositional methods. Fragments of plainsong are often used as basic source material to be adapted and developed. One piece was called “a Foxtrot for orchestra based on a pavan”. After moving to Orkney he included more Scottish themes and styles.


Wikipedia - - Max website - - Music Publisher - - some archives


as a very young man (poor sound) - - talks about conducting, aged 75

Farewell to Stromness - - Orkney Wedding with Sunrise - - pre-concert talk aged 80

Symphony No 6, RPO, cond. himself - - Symphony No 8, “Arctic”