Will Serious Music Become Extinct?

2005 Royal Philharmonic Society Lecture - Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

Given on Sunday 24 April 2005 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Will Serious Music Become Extinct?

Speaking publically for the first time since his appointment as Master of the Queen’s Music, composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies outlined his views on the future of classical music. In his lecture, Max questioned the condition of ‘serious’ music in our society with particular reference to political and commercial pressures, mass communication, education and the multiple functions of the composer.

“I am aware that many, even in the most respected bastions of musical education, regard the very knowledge of music notation as “elitist”: that classical music itself is elitist. If elitist means that a little prior study and knowledge helps towards listening and participation, then it is just that - along with any other field one could mention, from science to literature to football.”

....“The roots of a thriving classical music scene need three nutrients, of which the first is music education, and the second, resources: however this is perhaps a poor proposition for a government wishing to be perceived as prudent with tax payers’ money, and where the private sector, though taking a real interest, has no tax incentive to contribute. The third nutrient is new music. Classical music cannot become a museum culture, however tempting for some such a proposition may be. All performers, to be really alive, must be in a mutually constructive and beneficial relationship with contemporary thought and culture, and this means with real, live composers.”

The RPS Lecture

offers a platform for eminent thinkers and cultural commentators to examine aspects of the future of music. Recent speakers have included the neuroscientist Susan Greenfield, composer Steve Reich and opera director Graham Vick.

The RPS Lecture is generously supported by Peter Bull



Claire-Louise Auguste, flautist at Trinity Laban: enjoying playing her new flute purchased with assistance from the RPS Sir John Barbirolli memorial Fund.


Before there were traffic lights: coachmen delivering audience members to Philharmonic Society concerts at the Harmonic Institution were asked to ‘set down and take up with their horses’ heads facing Piccadilly’.