Monday, March 14, 2016

Peter Maxwell Davies (1934-2016)

Peter Maxwell Davies, the British composer most widely known for “An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise” (the best-known orchestral work employing bagpipes) and the harrowing “Eight Songs for a Mad King,” has died at 81.

First attracting notice with radical works such as the opera “Taverner” in the 1960s and ’70s, Maxwell Davies went on to compose more mainstream pieces, including symphonies, concertos and string quartets, many reflecting the culture and atmosphere of his adopted home, the Orkney Islands north of Scotland.

He served as Master of the Queen’s Music, Britain’s laureate composer, from 2004 until 2014.

“[T]he characteristic Maxwell Davies ‘sound’ is . . . a tensile, highly dissonant combination of lines, etched in primary colours, with absolutely no harmonic or colouristic padding to ingratiate the listener. At its best, the sound embodies a keen-edged and tragic lucidity, a high seriousness as much ethical as musical,” Ivan Hewett writes in an obituary The Guardian: