'I feel like I'm on trial," says
"Seriously," he says, with a glint in his eye, "all these celebrations are wonderful, but I did have to interrupt a piece I was thoroughly enjoying. I'm carrying it around with me in my brain - and I just want to get back to it." By "back to it", he doesn't just mean composing. He also means his home on the island of Sanday in
"I would like to see
This new piece is presenting Davies with the latest revelation in a lifetime of creative discoveries. "Just before I left to take the boat to come over to
He's lucky to be thinking at all. Last year he was given six weeks to live by doctors at
There was "absolutely revolting chemotherapy", and a blood clot that nearly killed him. "I remember going under, and I couldn't breathe, and it was horrible, and I thought: 'Oh well, tough!' I was quite prepared to go. They fought like crazy through the night to get rid of that."
Music was a factor in his fight for life. One of the pieces the
"I've often said that music knows something you don't. Like my 6th Symphony: it knew that
Throughout his treatment, Davies was at a desk in the hospital at
Davies's death would have been felt far beyond the LSO. His chaotic yet coherent masterpieces of the late 1960s, such as his Eight Songs for a Mad King, in which a violin is smashed to pieces every time the work is played - a moment that still draws gasps from any audience - through to his later cycles of concertos, symphonies, string quartets and music-theatre pieces, make his a unique achievement in 20th and 21st century music. Yet his assessment of his life's work is astonishingly, heartbreakingly modest. "I realise when I look at these people like
There are more important things than critical acclaim, he says. "My little piano piece Farewell to Stromness has almost become a folk tune. People just say, 'I like that piece,' and they don't know who wrote it. It gets played an awful lot at funerals these days. And that's very unusual, for a so-called serious composer, to write a piece that people like so much, and they don't care who it's by." Anonymity in your own lifetime - the ultimate accolade for a contemporary classical composer.
Meanwhile, Davies's thinking about his music seems to have acquired a new, mystical dimension. "My religious attitudes are very open indeed, but I do feel that for human beings to make a God in our own image is a terrible affront, because we're so limited in our understanding."
Of what? "Of everything: what goes on at a black hole or beyond, or what happens in the inside of a cell, or an atom. This is all so far beyond our comprehension that it can only be tapped through rigorous science, and we can only goggle at it because we don't really understand how subatomic science works, and what meaning it has - if it has any meaning. Nature doesn't concern itself with meaning: it just is. And it has been a huge joy and great privilege to have in some way tapped into that energy."
So music, his music, is a shard of that bigger, mysterious creative force? "I think in any composer worth their salt, you feel that come through the music - you feel something that is absolutely transcendental." That life-force is always present in Davies's work, in everything from the grand populism of Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise, with its bagpipe-festooned finale, to the intense drama of the Fourth Strathclyde Concerto, two of the pieces the Proms will present. And it will be there, too, in the music he will continue to write on Sanday, in that house next to the beach on the island's north coast, in his ninth decade.
'The music knows something we don't' . . .
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