Composers Datebook®

Maxwell Davies at a wedding (with sunrise)

Composer's Datebook - May 10, 2022


In 1970, British composer Peter Maxwell Davies moved to the remote and rugged Orkney Islands off the northern coast of Scotland. At first, he said, the natives thought he was just some weirdo from the south, and the more Puritanical islanders would pray the might find a more respectable means of earning a living than writing music.

But over time Davies and the islanders got used to each other. The composer found inspiration in the landscape and legends of the area, while the community warmed to the fact that the newcomer found them so fascinating. In 1978, Davies attended a neighbor’s wedding, which inspired a musical work he called “An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise.”

“It is a picture postcard,” said Davies, “We hear the guests arriving, out of extremely bad weather. This is followed by a processional and first glass of whiskey. The band tunes up and we get on with the dancing, which becomes ever wilder, until the lead fiddle can hardly hold the band together. We leave the hall into the cold night. As we walk home across the island, the sun rises to a glorious dawn.”

“The sun,” Maxwell Davies concluded, “is represented by the highland bagpipes, in full traditional splendor.”

Despite its local color, “An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise” was actually an AMERICAN commission from the Boston Pops, who gave its premiere on today’s date in 1985, with John Williams conducting.

Music Played in Today's Program

Peter Maxwell Davies (1934 - 2016) — An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise (George MacIlwham, bag-pipes; Royal Philharmonic; Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, cond.) Collins 1444

On This Day


  • 1697 - French violinist and composer Jean Marie Leclair, in Lyons;

  • 1888 - Austrian-born American film composer Max Steiner, in Vienna;

  • 1894 - Russian-born American film composer, Dimitri Tiomkin, in St. Petersburg;

  • 1916 - American composer Milton Babbitt, in Philadelphia;


  • 1760 - German composer Johann Christoph Graupner, age 77, in Darmstadt;


  • 1876 - Wagner: "Festival March" (commissioned for the American Centennial), at the opening of the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, conducted by Theodore Thomas;

  • 1894 - R. Strauss: opera "Guntram," in Weimar at the Hoftheater, with the composer conducting;

  • 1904 - Alfvén: "Midsommarvaka" (Midsummer Vigil), in Stockholm;

  • 1907 - Dukas: opera "Ariane et Barbe-Blue" (Ariane and Bluebeard),in Paris;

  • 1954 - Rautavaara: "A Requiem in Our Time," in Cincinnati, with Cincinnati Brass Choir, Ernest N, Glover, conducting; This work had won First Prize in the Thor Johnson Composition Contest that year;

  • 1957 - Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 2, in Moscow, by the USSR State Symphony, Nikolai Anosov conducting, with the composer's son, Maxim, as the soloist;

  • 1964 - Roy Harris: "Epilogue to ‘Profiles in Courage'" for orchestra, in Los Angeles;

  • 1985 - Peter Maxwell Davies: "An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise" for orchestra with bagpipe solo, ay Boston's Symphony Hall, by the Boston Pops conducted by John Williams;

  • 1985 - Michael Torke: "Ecstatic Orange," at the Cooper Union in New York, by the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Lukas Foss conducting;

  • 1997 - Philip Glass: opera "The Marriage Between Zones Three, Four and Five" (based on the sci-fi novel by Doris Lessing), at the State Theater in Heidelberg (Germany);


  • 1824 - American premiere of Mozart's opera "The Marriage of Figaro" (sung in English ) at the Park Theater in New York.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®