Throughout much of his career, Peter Maxwell Davies has had a preoccupation with sonata form. He has exploited the tension between this form and his other conflicting musical preoccupations, such as a penchant for continuous development and an abhorrence of exact repetition.
In his earlier works, Davies at times referred to the presence of a “ghost” of sonata form, whereas more recently he directly states that some of his pieces are in this form. Throughout its evolution the salient elements of sonata form have been contrast, conflict, and resolution, all three of which apply in an examination of Davies’s use of it.
In his second Taverner fantasia, the first movement appears on the surface to be in sonata form, but is actually driven by other principles such as recurring chordal material. The opening movement of the first symphony has the general outline of a sonata form without adhering to its contrasting thematic implications. The more recent third quartet combines the formal and harmonic implications of a pre-Beethovenian, essentially binary, sonata form, with a highly complex and idiosyncratic serial technique derived from magic squares.
This according to “The ghost in the machine: Sonata form in the music of Peter Maxwell Davies” by Rodney Lister, an essay included in Peter Maxwell Davies studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009) pp. 106–28).
Today is Sir Peter’s 80th birthday! Below, Davies conducts the BBC Philharmonic in his first symphony.
BONUS: How to pronounce the composer’s last name.