- No previewMiss Donnithorne's Maggot: Prelude
- No previewMiss Donnithorne's Maggot: Miss Donnithorne's Maggot
- No previewMiss Donnithorne's Maggot: Her Dump
- No previewMiss Donnithorne's Maggot: Nocturne
- No previewMiss Donnithorne's Maggot: Her Rant
- No previewMiss Donnithorne's Maggot: Recitative
- No previewMiss Donnithorne's Maggot: Her Reel
- No previewEight Songs for a Mad King: The Sentry
- No previewEight Songs for a Mad King: The Country Walk
- No previewEight Songs for a Mad King: The Lady-in-Waiting
- No previewEight Songs for a Mad King: To be Sung on the Water
- No previewEight Songs for a Mad King: The Phantom Queen
- No previewEight Songs for a Mad King: The Counterfeit
- No previewEight Songs for a Mad King: Country Dance
- No previewEight Songs for a Mad King: The Review
- No previewSir Peter Maxwell Davies in conversation with Paul Driver
Eight Songs for a Mad King & Miss Donnithorne's Maggot
Eight Songs for a Mad King
Long established as a classic of music-theatre, the work is an extravagant, disturbing and poignant portrayal of madness. The king is George III of England - or maybe another madman who believes himself to be that monarch - vocalizing weirdly as he bemoans his fate and tries to teach his instrumentalist-birds to sing. The string and woodwind players are the captives of his insanity, intended to play from within giant cages, while the percussionist is his keeper, holding him within the confines of a maddened musical sensibility. But all the musicians are essentially projections from within his own mind. The focus is always on him, and on his wild vocal performances, which include various kinds of Sprechgesang, chords and a range of over four octaves. The virtuosity of the instrumentalists is no less, nor that of the composer in playing spikily over a range of eighteenth-century references.
Miss Donnithorne's Maggot
Miss Donnithorne was an Australian lady, apparently one of the
models for Miss Havisham in Dickens's Great Expectations; jilted at
the last minute, she became a recluse, and Davies's piece discovers
her ranting among the remnants of her wedding cake, which is
decorated with instrumentalists. Like the mad king, she has eight
songs, though the fifth is a nocturne-interlude sung for her by the
alto flute. Also as in the earlier work, the solo part is a tour de
force of vocal effects, requiring a range of three octaves, though
Miss Donnithorne is generally more songful in her madness than
George III. The temperature of the ensemble music is also a little
lower, more controlled, perhaps more lady-like, if still expecting
wildly brilliant execution.
Notes by Paul Griffiths
Finally, a warm welcome for the enterprise of the
Manchester-based chamber group Psappha. To perform a pair of
music-theatre pieces by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies without a
conductor is a feat in itself, and to do so with such dramatic
flair is even more remarkable. 'Eight Songs for a Mad King' (1969)
is Max at his most extreme - a graphic portrait in sound of George
III's distressing illness, in which Kelvin Thomas Offers a
serviceable adaptation of the very specific vocal effects the
composer devised for the original perfomer, Roy Hart. 'Miss
Donnithorne's Maggot' (1974) has rather more musical substance, and
this account with Jane Manning as soloist, is brilliantly
successful in conveying the poignancy as well as the deludedness of
the protagonist. With an informative discussion between Sir Peter
and Paul Driver as a bonus, this is an auspicious beginning to
Psappha's own CD label.
Arnold Whittall, GRAMOPHONE, January 2005
THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH - BEST CD RELEASES OF 2004
...The earlier, more rebarbative Max is represented by his
music-theatre pieces 'Eight Songs for a Mad King' and 'Miss
Donnithorne's Maggot' in splendid performances by Kelvin Thomas and
Jane Manning with Psappha ensemble on its own label.
The contemporary music ensemble Psappha, founded in 1991,
launches its own label with magnificent and superlatively recorded
performances of Maxwell Davies's two haunting studies of madness.
Miss Donnithorne was an Australian forerunner of Dickens's Miss
Havisham and she is memorably characterised here by soprano Jane
Manning, who captures all her moods and also bring poignancy to her
interpretation as well as much humour. The instrumentation for six
players is Maxwell Davies at his most inventive.
Eight Songs for a Mad King still seems to me to be Max's music-theatre masterpiece and Kelvin Thomas is a superb baritone soloist as charts the king's progression into madness while he tries to teach his caged birds to sing. The sly references to Messiah and other 18th century works are seemlessly embedded in a masterly score.
The last track of this disc is an illuminating conversation between the composer and the critic Paul Driver
Michael Kennedy, THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH 13/9/04
**** [out of five!] (Psappha)
' - only the second ever recording - by Manchester-based group
Psappha (playing without conductor), has a wonderful clarity and
Andrew Clements, THE GUARDIAN 27/8/04
MAXWELL DAVIES: EIGHT SONGS FOR A MAD KING *****
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies may be Master of the Queen's Music now, but 30 years ago he rocked the musical establishment with his extrovert radicalism. Eight Songs for a Mad King is a brilliant music theatre piece whose exuberant style depicts the madness of George III. You don't get the eccentric visuals on CD, but this performance by the Manchester-based ensemble, Psappha, on its own, new label, captures the fun and horror to perfection.
Kenneth Walton, THE SCOTSMAN (24th September 2004)
MAXWELL DAVIES: Miss Donnithorne's Maggot/EIGHT SONGS FOR A MAD KING *****
FOR the launch of its own recording label, the Manchester-based
contemporary-music specialist ensemble, Psappha, has chosen Sir
Peter Maxwell Davies's two unnerving studies od madness, Miss
Donnithorne's Maggot and Eight Songs for a Mad King. Both
music-theatre works by the newly appointed Master of the Queen's
Music have been closely associated with the group over the last 10
years and these performances reflect an inner knowledge and
understanding of the composer's inspired originality.
Miss Donnithorne was an Australian lady who lived in isolation as a result of a broken engagement, and in fact was quite likely a model for Miss Havisham in Dickens's Great Expectations. The Maxwell Davies score opens with the desperately crazed Miss Donnithorne ranting among the remains of her superflous wedding cake, and (while the visual effects are of course missing on this audio recording) Jane Manning immediately paints a vocal picture of galloping insanity. Throughout the eight songs, Manning's brilliant performance is a remarkable excercise in vocal agility, totally convincing over the challenging three-octave range of the role.
If Miss D impresses you, Eight Songs will bowl you over. Baritone Kelvin Thomas is outstanding as the ranting King George III, bemoaning his fate, babbling to his birds as he tries to teach them to sing and having a crack at a few Handel excerpts, before dissolving into dementia.
In both performances the instrumental virtuosity of the ensemble perfectly depicts the grisly humour and frightening awfulness of invasive madness.
Frank Carroll, The Sunday Herald (3/10/2004)