May 16, 2016 8 Comments
I just learned that Peter Maxwell Davies died in March of this year. At the age of four, after a performance of an opera by Gilbert and Sullivan, he told his parents he was going to become a composer.
He was considered an enfant terrible of 20th Century avant-garde music, and probably his most famous piece is “Eight Songs for a Mad King,” written about King George III using the king’s own words from songs he attempted to teach bullfinches to sing. Supposedly it is a musical inversion of Handel’s “Messiah.” Pretty anti-monarchical stuff.
It is scored for a baritone lead, who must have an incredible range. I used to have a vinyl lp of the work on the Nonesuch label in which the baritone actually sang part of it in by projecting his voice into his nasal cavities to produce harmonics, in the same way that Tuvan singers from Mongolia do, which is called Dumchuktaar (Думчуктаар).
Ironic then, that after being appointed as the Master of the Queen’s Music in 2004, he quipped: “I have come to realise that there is a lot to be said for the monarchy. It represents continuity, tradition and stability.”