Eight Songs CD
Record No: PSA CD 1001
Price: £7.99
  1. No previewMiss Donnithorne's Maggot: Prelude
  2. No previewMiss Donnithorne's Maggot: Miss Donnithorne's Maggot
  3. No previewMiss Donnithorne's Maggot: Her Dump
  4. No previewMiss Donnithorne's Maggot: Nocturne
  5. No previewMiss Donnithorne's Maggot: Her Rant
  6. No previewMiss Donnithorne's Maggot: Recitative
  7. No previewMiss Donnithorne's Maggot: Her Reel
  8. No previewEight Songs for a Mad King: The Sentry
  9. No previewEight Songs for a Mad King: The Country Walk
  10. No previewEight Songs for a Mad King: The Lady-in-Waiting
  11. No previewEight Songs for a Mad King: To be Sung on the Water
  12. No previewEight Songs for a Mad King: The Phantom Queen
  13. No previewEight Songs for a Mad King: The Counterfeit
  14. No previewEight Songs for a Mad King: Country Dance
  15. No previewEight Songs for a Mad King: The Review
  16. 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

Press Reviews

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 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.

Michael Kennedy

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 dramatic immediacy.'

Andrew Clements, THE GUARDIAN 27/8/04


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)