Amongst composers of the 21st century, only a relative few have come to be regarded as having reached the very peak of their profession. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies not only occupies such a position, ranking among the world’s most eminent composers today - Boulez, Henze, Carter, Birtwistle – and a recognised successor to the avant-garde generation of Ligeti, Lutoslawski, Nono, Berio, Takemitsu and Xenakis; but has also confirmed himself to be a composer of a distinctly British hue, rendering him also, perhaps surprisingly, a natural successor to the close-worked tradition of (particularly) Elgar, Tippett and Britten.

The musical language is different, but the power of imagination and quality of craftsmanship are of the same order. Max’s output embraces every genre, from symphony (not just the eight that bear the name but over a dozen more works that merit it) and concerto (Strathclyde Concertos 1-10 for chamber orchestra, plus others with full orchestra, together embracing almost every orchestral solo instrument), opera and music theatre, ballet, children’s operas and both choral and instrumental music for young performers; as well as film music, oratorios, solo cantatas with ensemble or solo accompaniment (piano, or guitar as in Dark Angels), choral music, including music for the Christian liturgy, song cycles, cabaret, chamber music for diverse ensembles (with clarinet, piano and especially the cycle of ten Naxos Quartets), solo instrumental works (including for guitar), plus keyboard music for piano or organ.

Over the course of six decades, Maxwell Davies’s status has adapted from enfant terrible to leading cultural figure, playing a key role at the very heart of the British establishment. His appointment as Master of the Queen’s Music in 2004 recognises his influential role as a leading British composer and figure of world standing: it is both a tribute to the revolutionary, yet enabling influence he has had upon the public perception of the English contemporary music scene and a launchpad that, along with his presidency or patronage of many centrally important bodies (such as Making Music, the former Federation of British Music Societies), offers him added powers to champion the musical causes about which he feels most passionately.

Far from being tamed by his new status and responsibilities, Davies remains a geriatric terrible, who frequently speaks out, both in his music and in public forums, on political or social matters with which he feels passionately at odds, such as ‘green’ issues (with which Max engages in major works such as Black Pentecost, The Turn of the Tide) and the Second Iraq war, about which he made violent and satirical protest in the third of his ten Naxos Quartets.

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This biography was most recently edited by...
steven - 14 Jul 2010