When I was an undergraduate student, I was fortunate enough to be asked to play clarinet in a remarkable avant-garde chamber composition called “Eight Songs for a Mad King” by Scottish composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. It was one of the highlights of my undergraduate life. We performed it a number of times for a standing-room only audience. Truly an amazing composition by an amazing composer. I always felt a kinship to him for a few reasons—1-music, and 2-he lived and worked in the far north of Scotland. From February of 1988 to January of 1990, I lived in Scotland. I grew to love that country and even to this day, if I hear “O Flower of Scotland” sung with feeling or “Amazing Grace” played on the bagpipes, I get a bit emotional. For five months, I lived in the Caithness region of Scotland (on a small farm named “Sibmister” located between the small cities of Thurso and Wick). I have a particular fondness for the northern regions of Scotland. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies co-founded a yearly music festival—the St. Magnus Festival—in the Orkney Islands where he lived (the Orkney Islands are just a short ferry ride away from Thurso). It was always a dream of mine to perform at that festival. Perhaps it will still happen someday, but one part of that dream was to meet Sir Max. But today that dream has been altered…
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies died today. Leukemia. I went to teach my Music 101 (Music History for non-majors) shortly after I found out about this. I put this picture of him up on the screen
and told the students why his picture was up there (yes, I got choked up—could hardly talk) and played the last few minutes of his simple, beautiful, heartbreaking piano piece “Farewell to Stromness.”
So for this blog entry, I’m not going to say much except, please listen to his (perhaps) most accessible piece and one that will forevermore make me weep as I listen.