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[The Guardian] Peter Maxwell Davies (8 September 1934 – 14 March 2016): Strikingly original music composed at white heat

From confrontational early works to the community projects that were at the heart of all he did, Maxwell Davies was a great fixed point in British music

For almost half a century Peter Maxwell Davies was one of the great fixed points in the firmament of British music, one of its most respected and admired figures. Together with his contemporaries Alexander Goehr and Harrison Birtwistle, whom he had met while studying in Manchester in the 1950s, they gave a new direction to British musical culture in the 60s, one that instead of looking inwards, absorbed and learnt from musical developments elsewhere in Europe.

Almost to the end of his life Maxwell Davies remained astonishingly prolific – so much so that his output was divided between three music publishers and took in almost every conceivable music genre. There were full-length operas and ballets, chamber and children’s operas, 10 symphonies, a dozen concertos, a raft of occasional pieces and much chamber music. And then there were the works he composed in the 60s and 70s for the performing group he founded, with Birtwistle as co-director, as the Pierrot Players in 1967, and re-formed under his sole directorship as the Fires of London three years later. Among those are some of his most enduring achievements, music as strikingly original as anything being composed in Europe at that time, including Eight Songs for a Mad King1 and Vesalii Icones, which, together with pieces by Goehr and Birtwistle from the same period effectively defined a new homegrown genre of music theatre.

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1. Some – as I do – prefer the extraordinary interpretation of this extraordinary work by Julius Eastman and the Fires of London, under the direction of Peter Maxwell Davies. (MF)

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