Composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies dies in Orkney, aged 81

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, one of the leading composers of his generation, has died at his home in Orkney aged 81.

Sir Peter was described as a fierce fighter for music in the community and education. Picture: TSPL
Sir Peter was described as a fierce fighter for music in the community and education. Picture: TSPL

The former Master of the Queen’s Music, who inspired generations of musicians with his bold and intense works, died at his home on the island of Sanday, a place that had a deep and lasting influence on his compositions.

His most enduring work was the piano piece, Farewell to Stromness, and he founded the popular St Magnus ­International Festival.

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His death was announced by classical music agency, ­Intermusica, which paid tribute to Sir Peter’s “profound contribution to musical history and beyond through his wide-ranging and prolific ­output”.

An experienced musician who started composing in his teenage years, Sir Peter held the position of associate conductor/composer at the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for ten years between 1992 and 2002.

He was knighted in 1987 and from 2004 to 2014 held the post of Master of the Queen’s Music – the musical equivalent of Poet Laureate, granted to a musician “of great distinction”.

He was made a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour in the 2014 New Year Honours List.

In February, Sir Peter was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal in recognition of “outstanding musicianship” – the society’s highest honour.

Alasdair Nicolson, artistic director of the St Magnus International Festival said Sir Peter was a “dear friend and esteemed colleague” as well as a “huge influence” on his generation.

He added: “The musical world will miss his endless enthusiasm, his encouragement of the young and his complete integrity to his art.”

Sally Groves, a close friend of Sir Peter’s and the former creative director of Schott Music, which published his works, described him as a man of “invincible integrity” who created music of “truly universal popularity”.

She said: “Max was a truly unique musician. A remarkable composer who created music theatre works of searing power, great symphonies, intense chamber music, works of truly universal popularity. A fierce fighter for music in the community and in education, and on environmental issues. And a man of invincible integrity, a true friend and a teller of truth to power.”

She added: “The last years, even when battling against the leukaemia which came on him so suddenly, were an Indian summer of wonderful, richly-imagined works.”

Sir Peter was committed to writing music for young people and during his illness had been working with London Symphony Orchestra on new children’s opera The Hogboon ahead of its premiere in June.

Alan Davey, controller of BBC Radio 3, said: “With his passing we have lost a musical giant, a major composer with a strong and unique voice through all parts of his extraordinary career, from his early avant garde musical theatre works to his symphonies and his work for children and young people.

“I’m glad that the BBC was able to collaborate with such a talent, bringing his work to audiences around the world. It is a sad loss to the world of music and we will remember him through his recordings and the glorious spirit that shines through his music.”