Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2017

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Music critics and scholars frequently present British composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (1934-2016) as a green composer, but little work has been done to determine the kinds of environmentalism his music supports. This dissertation focuses on the relationship between Davies’s music and British environmentalism, both as protest music and as government policy. Drawing on such diverse fields as philosophy of the environment, British political history, and environmental aesthetics, I examine how Davies’s music responded to the political climate of its times, and how its reception changed as certain environmental models, such as sustainable development, gained political relevance. Over the course of Davies’s career, the environmental stances supported in his music gradually became more radical, shifting from anthropocentric pragmatism to a more ecocentric idealism. Works discussed include his antinuclear protest works, Black Pentecost (1979) and The Yellow Cake Revue (1980); his pastoral collaborations with the Orcadian poet George Mackay Brown (1921-1996), Solstice of Light (1979), The Well (1981), and Into the Labyrinth (1983); his Antarctic Symphony (2000); the children’s works, The Peat Cutters (1985), The Spiders’ Revenge (1991), and The Turn of the Tide (1993); and his final environmental work, The Sorcerer’s Mirror (2009). I also compare Davies’s Antarctic Symphony to John Luther Adams’s (b. 1953) audiovisual installation, The Place Where You Go to Listen (2006), investigating how the authenticity, ambience, and ecocentricity commonly ascribed to Adams’s work can also be evoked by music in traditional Western concert genres. I propose a new definition for musical ecocentrism as music that demonstrates and insists on value for nonhuman phenomena, offering Davies’s depictions of non-human experiences of time in his Antarctic Symphony as an example.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Dolores Pesce

Committee Members

Peter Raven, Peter Schmelz, Christopher Stark, Alexander Stefaniak,


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