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Honorary graduate Sir Peter Maxwell Davies 'a huge figure'

Monday 14 March 2016

UNIVERSITY figures have begun paying their respects after acclaimed Salford composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies passed away.

Sir Peter, a former Master of the Queen’s Music, known for his avant-garde works, died this week aged 81.

Salford-born, his achievements were twice recognised by the University of Salford’s music department with honorary awards – first in 1973 when he received an Honorary Masters and again in 1999 when the University awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Letters.

A true pioneer, Sir Peter took a democratic approach to classical music, so often criticised as elitist: writing for children, ballet, theatre and a variety of orchestras, and was the first classical composer to launch a music download website in 1996.

Music education 

Known to most as Max, he composed some 300 works, including 10 symphonies, the 10 ‘Strathclyde’ Concertos and operas such as the lighthouse and Eight Songs for a Mad King.

As a conductor, Davies held positions at the BBC Philharmonic and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras and appeared with many major orchestras in Europe and North America.

He was also a proud advocate of classical music and music education.

"The roots of a thriving classical music scene need three nutrients," he said in the 2005 Royal Philharmonic Society Lecture. "The first is music education, and the second, resources... The third nutrient is new music. Classical music cannot become a museum culture."

Professor Stephen Davismoon, chair of contemporary composition at the University of Salford, who met Sir Peter on several occasions, said he was a “massive figure” in British music.

Public spirited 

Stephen said: “The world of British classical music has lost one of its leading lights with the passing of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, one of the most influential composers of his generation and whose music touched people from many different walks of life. When one is mindful of 'Max's' very humble Salfordian origins - of which he was very proud - the rise to his being appointed Master of the Queen's Music in 2004 is all the more impressive. 

"Quite aside from the many masterpieces, what impressed me most about him was the way in which he maintained a 'public spiritedness' at his core, evidenced by his work with the Darlington Summer Course; The St. Magnus Festival and the composer summer course that he ran, not to mention his work with children, convicts and the unemployed.

“I was lucky enough to have met him on a number of occasions; I always found him to be a very gentle, generous and warm spirited.

“The University of Salford honoured Sir Peter Maxwell Davies; we will find a fitting way to mark his passing and celebrate his legacy through that that inspired his entire life - music." 


Professor Alan Walker, Dean of Arts & Media recalls when 'Max' visited the university’s Digital Performance Lab at Media City in 2012 as part of a research partnership with Psappha who were organising a digital staging of his  seminal piece Eight Songs for a Mad King.

Alan said: "He maintained a passion for music education and as Master of the Queen’s Music engaged vigorously in the debate about the importance of music in schools.

"We  will mourn the passing of an iconoclast and musical democrat who was one of a very few musicians who transformed the musical landscape."