Composer Peter Maxwell Davies Dies at Age 81

By Philip Trapp on Mar 16, 2016 02:11 AM EDT

English composer and conductor Sir Peter Maxwell Davies died on Monday, aged 81.

The prolific musician wrote his first composition at the age of 14. Classical musicians and music fans around the world stand in remembrance of him this week. 

Sir Peter was a highly respected composer, known for his forward-thinking views of technology as much as his envelope-pushing compositions. Davies was one of the first classical musicians to endorse music downloading, opening his own music website, MaxOpus, in 1996, before much of the world was even familiar with such technology.

In the 1960s, Davies was often disdained by classical fans for shunning tradition and shocking listeners. One of the most cited examples of this tactic, his monodrama Eight Songs for a Mad King contained a debasement of Handel's Messiah as a musical parody.

Davies was a former conductor with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and in 2004 was named "Master of the Queen's Music," a title he held for 10 years. Ever the astute thinker, the composer was well aware of life's frailties and their clairvoyance through music. Speaking to The Guardian on the eve of his 80th birthday, Sir Peter highlighted the foreknowledge contained in compositions of which its writer may be unaware:

"I've often said that music knows something you don't. Like my 6th Symphony: it knew that George Mackay Brown [the great Orcadian poet, a close friend of Davies's] was very ill and was going to die. He died at the very moment I completed the piece. And I think that listening to something like Mahler's Sixth or Ninth symphonies, you realize that the music knows what the author doesn't."

Sir Peter is the latest in a string of beloved composers and musicians who have died this year, including George Martin, Pierre Boulez, David Bowie and Glenn Frey. These are only some of the deceased artists who have helped scores of listeners worldwide further appreciate music and art.

Let us know how you feel about the death of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies in the comments section below. Were you familiar with the composer's work? We would love to hear from you. 

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