Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

1934 - 2016


St Magnus International Festival was deeply saddened to learn of the death of its founder as the Festival approached its 40th year. 

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies was born in Salford and became known in the 1960's as a leading avant garde composer.

Max first visited Orkney in 1970, when he met Orcadian writer, George Mackay Brown. Max moved to a clifftop cottage on the island of Hoy in 1974 and began a prolific period of work, inspired by George's work as well as Orkney's landscape and rich history. He became part of the local community and, in 1977, with the help of a group of local music lovers, the St Magnus Festival was born and, against the odds, survived.

Some of his best known works, such as Farewell to Stromness and Orkney Wedding with Sunrise are very obviously inspired by his life in Orkney but the sounds and particularly the silence he found on his beach walks inspired and shaped much of his music. He was passionate about musical education and many of his works for children, such as Cinderella and The Two Fiddlers, were first performed by schoolchildren in Orkney.

Max went on to be knighted and to become Master of the Queen's music, regarded as one of the major figures of late twentieth century music in Britain. At the same time he kept on writing works for local amateur groups  and events in Orkney and he was a constant presence at the Festival, with new works premiered at regular intervals.

He moved to the low-lying northern island of Sanday and passed away at his home there in March 2016. 

Max’s vision, determination and influence brought to life something which is now a precious part of the Scottish, UK and International arts scene and whose reputation owes much to his work as a composer, educator and performer.  From the earliest days organising things from a phone box on Hoy to his more recent role as the Festival’s Honorary President, Max had won the hearts of the Orkney community and been a significant part of the livesmany generations of musicians from the islands.

The Festival’s Artistic Director, Alasdair Nicolson, said, “I’m very sad to hear of the loss of a dear friend and esteemed colleague. Max was a huge influence on so many composers of my generation and led the way not only as a brilliant composer but also as an educator, a producer and performer.  I am lucky to currently look after the Festival he started 40 years ago which is a testament to his qualities as a musician but also his true sense of a musician being part of the community in which he lives.  The musical world will miss his endless enthusiasm, his encouragement of the young and his complete integrity to his art.”

There will be a special event in Orkney in September 2016 to remember Max and his music. More details to follow.

Read more about Sir Peter Maxwell Davies at

Hear a range of programmes about Max at the BBC website

Alasdair Nicolson and Glenys Hughes on Max




Farewell to Max: a life in music, Newshour - BBC World Service
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, British composer famous for 'Farewell to Stromness', remembered


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