Peter Maxwell Davies died today, and therefore all my work to record his Piano Sonata is now also to his memory. The last time I spoke with the composer while standing in the lobby of the Great Hall at Dartington in 2009, where he had been listening to his string quartet “Lighthouses of Orkney” in rehearsal, was well before he was first diagnosed with leukaemia. It’s sad that the illness returned and his life came to an end today, though not unexpected in view of such a serious condition.
In that morning of August 2009 I had been speaking and thanking him for returning to the Summer School that he once transformed, and which now welcomed him back, in spite of the cultural changes that had dumbed down some of the audience expectations in the meantime. His ‘The Lighthouse’ opera in the Barn Theatre that year was overwhelmingly popular with performances completely oversubscribed, while his very challenging chamber music and languid choral pieces intrigued an interested, but often much smaller audience during the evening concerts. His introductions to every piece were welcomed for their charm as well as content.
I told him enthusiastically of my adventures in primary education with his children’s works (Kirkwall Shopping Somgs, The Rainbow) and my performing in music theatre pieces (Missa Super l’homme Armé, Eight Songs for a Mad King). I recalled previous meetings, and all the signed scores I have kept and the premieres I had attended. Then finally, just as we parted, I remembered to say, as a bit of an afterthought, that I had performed his Piano Sonata during the mid 1980s. Peter Maxwell Davies’ raised his expressive eyebrows at that moment and said nothing, as if the casual mentioning of such a serious, difficult, and rarely performed piece felt, even to him, preposterous within the scope of our conversation! I would think that the Sonata, surely among his most uncompromising compositions, was of special importance in pursuing the composer’s greatest ambitions. I would have dearly loved him to hear me play it, with the dedication I have, but introducing it to new listeners and audiences is a privilege that remains.
BP 14th March 2016