“Eights Songs for a Mad King” from BBC Radio 3, October 2008
(Taken from RHT newsletter, winter 2009)
Peter Maxwell Davies
...............During the Members’ Weekend of January 2009, Paul and I gave a presentation centred around the BBC Radio 3’s programme on “Eight Songs for a Mad King”.
...............“Eight Songs …” was written by Peter Maxwell Davies in 1969 with Roy Hart, as soloist, singing the role of King George III. In the radio programme, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies had some really interesting comments to make on the inspiration behind the work and the creation of the piece.
...............To illustrate the interview, various parts of the work were sung by the classical baritone, Kelvin Thomas. After each example, Paul added Roy’s original interpretation of the exact same excerpt. It made fascinating listening.
...............When the interviewer asked Sir Peter Maxwell Davies “How does a voice, a single voice, create a chord?” he replies “There was this wonderful actor from South Africa called Roy Hart. This Roy Hart ran a vocal group who did these multiphonics at a place in Hampstead called the Abraxas Club. It was all very much of the period, these people writhed around on the floor singing these extraordinary harmonics. … Roy Hart was the first soloist in this piece and he could do these multiphonics so I put them in the score never thinking that anyone would want to play this piece after he’d done it.” “I had never written anything like this, it was absolutely crackers.” … “It’s a piece of its time. I’m very pleased that it’s survived its time and that there are lots and lots of mad Kings running around all over the world performing this piece.”
...............The interviewer finishes the programme with “It has to be said that “Eight Songs for a Mad King” is a seminal piece of music theatre. … We do confront madness here. … What’s most unsettling about this work is that, like all great works of art, it holds a mirror up to all of us. When the King and his music are more normal, in inverted commas, through this piece, not only do they throw the more disturbing material into relief but they remind us that we’re not just spectators.”
................In addition to these insightful comments, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies spoke about “pushing back borders”, how his students were tackling range in music with much less difficulty than they used to. Roy Hart was not credited with helping this trend, as he was not credited with in part inspiring the creation of the music line of “Eight Songs”, apart from the inclusion of chorded sounds. He should really have been acknowledged more for what seemed “crackers” for Peter Maxwell Davies in the late 60s but which has now become a real step in the development of music. As the interviewer indicated, the “pushing back of borders” has moved into people’s personal lives too. This comment can surely be attributed to Roy Hart’s teaching, his multi-octave approach to life and our continuation and development of this teaching since the mid-seventies.
Clara Silber Harris
Any Questions ?
Eight Songs index page