Peter Maxwell Davies - Country Dance from Eight Songs for a Mad King
Lady in Waiting
The mad king is the British monarch George III (reigned
1760-1820), who suffered from a hereditary condition that made him
prone to periods of insanity, especially when he was older. When
not in his right mind he would try to teach caged birds to sing,
and this image of the king and the birds is what fascinated Peter
Maxwell Davies. Davies has the king played by a vocalist, who has
to sing across an extraordinarily wide range of notes. The birds
are represented by instrumentalists on flute, clarinet, violin and
cello, while the percussionist has the role of the person in charge
of the king. There's also a keyboard player.
'Lady in Waiting', the third of the mad king's eight songs, is a
duet for him and the flute player. 'Country Dance' is the last song
but one, and the most dramatic. A tune from Handel's Messiah, much
loved by the real George III, is grotesquely distorted. We also
hear the popular music of the composer's youth. And that's not
Peter Maxwell Davies (born 1934)
Born and brought up in Manchester, Peter Maxwell Davies has spent
half his life in Orkney, the group of islands off the north coast
of Scotland. He went there to find peace, and it worked. He's
written far more music than most composers these days: symphonies,
operas, music for choirs, music for solo instruments, everything.
In 1987 he received a knighthood.
Eight Songs for a Mad King, written in 1969, comes from a time
when his music was pretty wild. Musical instruments, very
definitely including the human voice, are pushed to make sounds
never heard before. Great classics are quoted and sent up. Popular
dances of Davies's childhood, especially the genteel foxtrot,
appear way out of context. Later he quietened down (and speeded
up), but he still likes to take you by surprise.