Maw, (John) Nicholas (1935–2009) By Venn, Edward
Nicholas Maw was one of the leading British composers of his generation. His music balances modernist sensibilities with musical and expressive impulses derived from Late Romanticism, often on a large scale and with reference to traditional genres. In later life he relocated to the United States of America, where he died from heart failure.
Though born into a musical family in Grantham, Lincolnshire, Maw only began composing at the instigation of a school music teacher at the age of 15. Later he studied at the Royal Academy of Music (1955–58) with Lennox Berkeley. Both the Academy and London in general provided an environment in which he could encounter early-twentieth-century modernist music for the first time (in particular that of the Second Viennese School) and more contemporary idioms. Supported by a French Government scholarship, Maw continued his education in France with Nadia Boulanger (who helped him secure the Lili Boulanger Prize, which allowed him to remain in Paris for a further six months) and Max Deutsch. Though Maw’s earliest works, such as the Eight Chinese Lyrics (1956) and Nocturne (1957–58), already demonstrated familiarity with the music of the Second Viennese School (as well as that of Britten), the compositions that Maw produced on his return to England, such as the Six Chinese Songs (1959), revealed a Boulezian influence.