Farewell To Max

Dear Max, we’ve only met through your wonderful music and yet we’ve been so close to you on several occasions. We were walking on Orkney’s Hoy, lost in an island mist and returning ever back through the disorientating whiteness to the same trig point when we spotted the ‘Old Man’ and knew that your cottage was near. We saw the little place where you lived and yet were too shy to come closer and knock on your front door. I so wish we’d done so for we were told you were such a welcoming person.

At least we came near to you and the enchanted islands where you lived through our all too short stay when we were a little younger than we are now.

We did, at least, musically join in your wedding and sunrise!

And we spotted you at Saint Magnus cathedral during the festival you so enthusiastically helped to set up among the people you loved so much.

We could have met again through the Italian connection. For from the Celtic north of Ultima Thule to the luxuriant fertility of the Mediterranean there is a great connection. Indeed, two.

First, is the Italian chapel transformed by Italian prisoners of war from a gloomy nissen hut to a veritable chiesina (little church). ‘Churchill’s prisoners’, as they were called, created a little piece of Italy in the lonely wilds of a country so far and so different from their own. And when the war ended the prisoners couldn’t let go and would return to it and complete those gorgeous frescoes.

(Sandra at the Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm Orkney 1989)

Yes, we were there with you in spirit in that little jewel set by a sea which could transform from a threatening grey to a Grecian azure.

The second Italian connection where we were so close to you was the time spent in Rome and your (and my) fascination with Borromini who began to mean so much to you and was the inspiration behind your Tenth symphony titled ‘Alla ricerca di Borromini’ premiered in 2014. Borromini, the great baroque architect, who suffered from depression because he felt he wasn’t as good as Bernini his rival. Borromini who tried to commit suicide by falling on his sword and died two days later, just in time to write a testament which forms the last section of your symphony. Your tenth symphony, written in defiance of the leukaemia which would take you away, like another good friend of mine. At least you defied the ‘curse of nine’ which hit such composers as Schubert, Beethoven Mahler and Bruckner!

(Borromini and our visit to his masterpiece, the church Sant’Ivo della Sapienza in Rome, 2011)

You were always interested in architecture. ‘Frozen music’ has been a very apt description of architecture and the way the space it encloses can be immensely enlarged by a detail here, a volute here, a recess there, fascinated you with Borromini. Your music could be described as fluid architecture by analogy. It increases our sonorous universe by creating vast resonances in small spaces.


(The ceiling of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, another Borromini treasure in Rome and particularly loved by Max)

Maybe we never physically met but spiritually I have been close to you and love the sound world you have created which will live as long as there is life on our planet.

Thank you Max!. Farewell dear Max!

(In Stromness 1989)



Peter Maxwell Davies (8 September 1934 – 14 March 2016)




A light beyond new light that lifts,
high-feathered, with a thousand greens and greys
beyond the landscape of the eye, that drifts
in sea-mist curls on islands’ arcane maze;

a smell of mermaids’ skin, a dream of stars
upon the midnight circle of lanced stones,
lament of blood and touch of battle-scars
prophetic mind’s abandoned, wind-scoured bones;

and still the wave-renewing shores of life,
and lengthening shadows on lintel wings,
the Earl’s castle in weather’s endless strife
while high above an unseen skylark sings.

Heart cries in rings of captive memory
of islands born on winds and spells and sea.



5 thoughts on “Farewell To Max

  1. Reply from a friend and a great soprano, especially for Handel!
    ‘That’s a beautiful blog posting, Francis! I think you should send it around. It deserves to be read by many!


  2. I enjoyed this blog very much Francis – and listened to the music which was great, especially wit h the bagpipes (of course!) I remember a little chapel in Kenya built by Italian prisoners of war – we used to pass it when we drove 200 miles to Nairobi from our farm. It was at the bottom of the escarpment of the Rift Valley.

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