Eight Songs for a Mad King Essay Example

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies was born on September 8th, 1934 and recently died about three years ago, March 14th, 2016. He was an English composer and he knew he wanted to be a composer since he was four years old. At that age, he saw a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers, and he fell in love with the musical arts. He decided to take piano lessons and composed at a young age. When he was 14 years old, he submitted a composition called “Blue Ice” to the radio station called Children's Hour. Their producer, Trevor Hill, showed it to resident singer and entertainer Violet Carson, who said, "He's either quite brilliant or mad". The conductor, Charles Groves gave his approval and let Peter in.

Peter Davies started to rise to fame with the help of Hill, who made him the station’s resident composer and introduced him to many different professional musicians both in the UK and Germany. Later on, he became a student at both the University of Manchester and at the Royal Manchester College of Music. At the college, he organized a group devoted towards working on contemporary music, the New Music Manchester, with some classmates, Alexander Goehr, Elgar Howarth, Harrison Birtwistle, and John Ogdon. One of his many compositions includes eight works for the stage, from the monodrama Eight Songs for a Mad King, which shocked the audience in 1969. 

Eight Songs for a Mad King is a postmodern monodrama that was composed in 1969. It is inspired by the little mechanical organ range of eight tunes, the eight songs illustrate several historical and imagined stories from King George III's famous and well-documented plunge into insanity. The piece was written for Roy Hart, a South African actor, and the composer’s ensemble, the Pierrot Players. This piece was one of the most disturbing and distinctive musical works of the twentieth century because it draws on many different extremes of emotion and levels of energy of a disturbed mind. He becomes reckless and expresses all the anger, anguish, and craze that he was going through in his head with the levels of psychosis in his voice.

It still stands as the best and well-known piece of Davies’ wide-ranging musical style. It is programmatic music because it really is a musical portrayal of King George III’s mind. The basic function of the composed work is semi-theatrical work made for an ensemble and a male vocalist that has an extraordinary command of extended vocal techniques and that can cover more than five octaves. The complete orchestra of this piece is mainly made of up the flute (double piccolo), clarinet, percussion (could use some): railway whistle, snare drum, 2 suspended cymbals, foot cymbal, 2 wood blocks, bass drum, chains, ratchet, tom-toms, tam-tam, tambourine, rototoms, toy bird-calls, 2 temple blocks, wind chimes, crotales, sleigh bells, glockenspiel, steel bars, crow, didgeridoo, piano (doubling harpsichord and dulcimer), violin, and cello.

The entire piece overall does not really have tonality or form because this is a chaotic piece, it’s all over the place with the vocal and instruments, there isn’t a set beat throughout the whole monodrama. From beginning to end it is all dramatic but each song is different. It includes all types of noises from grunts, to howls, and then screeches and yelling. If the expectation of this piece is dramatic and emotional, it definitely surpasses the usual expectation of the genre. Which the genre is a vocal music classical. It has eight movements: 1. The Sentry- King of Prussia’s Minuet 2. The Country Walk- La Promenade 3. The Lady in Waiting- Miss Musgrave’s Fancy 4. To Be Sung on the Water- The Waterman 5. The Phantom Queen- He’s ay-a Kissing Me 6. The Counterfeit- Le Contrefait  7. Country Dance- Scotch Bonnet 8. The Review- A Spanish March (the finale).

The melody is highly disjunct and had extended techniques. There is no firm sense of rhythm or form and has chromatic harmony. Expression and timbre are extremely emotional and melodramatic. Eight Songs for a Mad King definitely fits into the mid-twentieth century and postmodernism period because many of the musical works of the postmodern period are all different but have popular elements in the works. To having emphasized combinative techniques and having revived historical and classical elements open up to broad artistic expressions. It fits within this time. 

This piece easily stands out because of all the chaos that is in it. It makes it very different from a lot of the music pieces that are out there. It seems that this piece is not performed often because of how difficult the vocal part is and for someone to really bring out the true emotion of this piece would be hard to portray. It was only ever performed a few times, it is well-known but to difficult perform. However, because it is well known for being a disturbing piece, it does not make it successful. The online performance has mixed reviews, some say it was amazing, others say it was laughable or frightening, and even irritating. Which really speaks for itself, this piece is really different. Never heard anything like it, it really is a unique piece.



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