Composers Datebook®

Davis? Davies? Or Mavis?

Composer's Datebook - September 8, 2023


Today's date in 1934 marked the birthday of the late British composer Peter Maxwell Davies. Now, his name is spelled D-A-V-I-E-S, so most Americans tend to pronounce it “Day-VEES,” even though “Davis” is the common British pronunciation.

Once, when Davies was in the U.S., a British journalist called a Las Vegas hotel where the composer was staying and asked to speak to Peter Maxwell Davis. The receptionist said there was no one there by that name. Asked to spell the name, the British journalist did. “Oh, Day-vees!” said the receptionist. “Sorry, there is no one registered by that name either.” It turned out the hotel computer had compressed Maxwell Davis into “Mavis” and that was how he was registered. He found the whole incident so amusing that he wrote an orchestral tone-poem entitled “Mavis in Las Vegas,” fantasizing that somehow he had a female alter-ego in that city, perhaps earning her living as a high-kicking Vegas showgirl.

In addition to the whimsical “Mavis in Las Vegas,” Maxwell Davies often composed music often inspired by the bleak Northern land- and seascape of the Orkney Islands—an atmosphere as far removed from the Vegas Strip as you can imagine.

Music Played in Today's Program

Peter Maxwell Davies (b. 1934) Mavis in Las Vegas BBC Symphony; Peter Maxwell Davies, cond. Collins 1524

On This Day


  • 1841 - Czech composer Antonin Dvorák, in Nelahozeves;

  • 1894 - Dutch composer Willem Pijper, in Zeist;

  • 1933 - American composer Eric Salzman, in New York City;

  • 1934 - British composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (whose last name, despite its spelling, is pronounced "Davis" by the British);

  • 1934 - Canadian composer Srul Irving Glick, in Toronto;


  • 1613 - Italian nobleman, composer, lutenist, and murderer (of his first wife and her lover) Don Carlo Gesualdo, age c. 53, at his castle in Gesualdo;

  • 1949 - German composer and conductor Richard Strauss, age 85, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen;

  • 1991 - American composer Alex North, age 80, in Pacific Palisades, Calif.;


  • 1961 - Earle Brown: "Available Forms I" for 18 players, in Darmstadt;

  • 1971 - Bernstein: gala premiere "Mass (A Theater Piece)" at the inauguration of the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., choreographed by Alvin Ainley, directed by Gordon Davidson, and conducted by Maurice Peress (Bernstein shared a box section with members of the Kennedy family, including Senator Ted Kennedy and his mother, Rose; Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis did not attend this performance); A dress rehearsal performances of this new work was also open to the public and specially-invited members of Congress the preceding day;

  • 1975 - Paul Chihara: "Ceremony V (Symphony in Celebration)," in Houston;

  • 1994 - Michael Torke: "Javelin," by the Atlanta Symphony, Yoel Levi conducting;

  • 1995 - Lou Harrison: "New First Suite for Strings," in Majorca, by the Stuttgart Symphony, Dennis Russell Davies conductin;

  • 2000 - Tan Dun: "Water Passion after St. Matthew," in Stuttgart (Germany), with vocal soloists Elizabeth Keusch and Stephen Bryant, violinist Mark O'Connor, cellist Maya Beiser, and percussionist David Cossin, and the orchestra of the Bach Academy conducted by the composer; This work was one of four passion settings commissioned by the International Bach Academy to honor the 250th anniversary of Bach's death in the year 2000 (see also: Aug. 29 Sept 1 5).

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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®