Eight Songs for a Mad King is a monodrama by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies with a libretto by Randolph Stow, based on words of George III. The work was written for the South-African actor Roy Hart and the composer's ensemble, the Pierrot Players. It was premiered on 22 April 1969.
Lasting half an hour, it is scored for a baritone with an extraordinary command of extended techniques covering more than five octaves, and six players (Pierrot ensemble + percussion):
The songs derive from tunes played by an extant mechanical organ owned by George III, tunes that he attempted to train bullfinches to sing:
The action unfolds as a soliloquy by the king, the players being placed on stage (ideally) in large birdcages, and climaxes in his snatching and smashing the violin.
The score is published by Boosey & Hawkes, and its cover shows a famous excerpt in which the staves are arranged like the bars of a birdcage.
Besides Hart, exponents of this work have included William Pearson, Michael Rippon, Thomas Meglioranza, Julius Eastman and Vincent Ranallo. The Swedish baritone Olle Persson performed the work in Stockholm in the 1990s. The British baritone Richard Suart has performed the piece in Gelsenkirchen‚ Milan‚ Helsinki‚ Strasbourg‚ Stavanger and Paris; in 1987 The Musical Times described Suart's take as "compelling from start to finish". Welsh baritone Kelvin Thomas sang the role at Munich's Kammerspiele Schauspielhaus in 2011, and in a production by Music Theatre Wales in 2013.
Performances & Interviews
- The Hear and Now Fifty - Peter Maxwell Davieshttps://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01dqvcz.jpghttps://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01dqvcz.jpg2013-08-07T14:49:00.000ZCritic Paul Driver explains why Maxwell Davies’s 8 Songs For A Mad King is so important.https://www.bbc.co.uk/music/audiovideo/popular/p01dtpjd
The Hear and Now Fifty - Peter Maxwell DaviesCritic Paul Driver explains why Maxwell Davies’s 8 Songs For A Mad King is so important.
- Sir Peter Maxwell Davies: Eight Songs for a Mad Kinghttps://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01z9jc2.jpghttps://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01z9jc2.jpg2014-05-17T20:50:00.000ZA look at Peter Maxwell Davies's music theatre work, Eight Songs for a Mad King.https://www.bbc.co.uk/music/audiovideo/popular/p01z9jcc
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies: Eight Songs for a Mad KingA look at Peter Maxwell Davies's music theatre work, Eight Songs for a Mad King.