To the Max...

Hi, 

I woke this morning to read the news that British composer, Peter Maxwell Davies, had died of leukemia, at the age of 81. 

Why should this bother me - "the jazz guy" - jazz double bass player and bass guitarist? 

Well, in a former life I was a trombonist (classical and jazz), and studied for a masters degree in contemporary classical composition. Before that was a classical music degree, where I was mostly the "early music guy", and ace sackbuttist in various early music groups... 

Incidentally, I stuck the university composition course for about three weeks before discovering that if you didn't write 12 tone or serial music you didn't get good marks - this was in the late 1970's. I was interested in tonal-ish music (including jazz). This made me either so far behind (or, as it turned out, ahead of) the trendy style of the day that I wasn't taken seriously by the composition lecturers... 

Before that, I went to a grammar school where the head of music (an organist and harpsichordist, and Messiaen, Monty Python and Early Music fan) had studied in Manchester. He (David Johnson, aka DJ) had been a contemporary of what later became known as the "Manchester School" - Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle, Sandy Goehr, Elgar Howarth, John McCabe and John Lill. 

How many degrees of separation? 

One of the offshoots of this connection was that, in the school brass group, we would test out new works for the Junior Just Brass range of publications by people like John McCabe and Elgar Howarth before they were published officially. 

My teenage rebellion consisted of playing Schoenberg, Webern, Berio and Messiaen LPs very loud at home - no Genesis, Hawkwind or Led Zeppelin for me. I was a weird kid! I remember reading about the earth-shattering dissonances in Rite Of Spring (Stravinsky). I borrowed the LP from school and listened to it. I was so used to "crunchy" harmony that I didn't even spot the correct passage - the piece finished and I had missed it! Later on, the reason that "free jazz" never scared me was probably because of all this contemporary classical listening at an early age... 

Anyway... Peter Maxwell Davies will be missed, not just as a composer, but also as a supporter of all things Orkadian (He lived in the Orkneys from 1971 onwards - I've never been, but am a total Outer Hebrides nut!), a champion of music for young people and amateurs, and an outspoken supporter of proper music education for all. The only things I'm not so keen on are the title (Sir Peter) and the role of Master of the Queen's Music - I don't think my politics would let me accept either of those, but realistically the chance of being offered either of them is fairly remote... Ooh! Look at that flying pig! 

I was just finishing off this post when I read that Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake and Palmer) has been found dead - suspected suicide. It's a bit bizarre to have to have these two in the same blog, but ELP were the only prog rock band that I liked and their version of Pictures at an Exhibition is a much earlier fixture in my musical memory banks than the Mussorgsky original. That came much later... 

Just one of those days... 

(rather muted) Cheers, 

Ralf

Leave a comment

    Add comment