MAD KING

 

Sunday, December 16th @4pm
Big Medium

Purcell/Peter Maxwell Davies: Fantasia on a Ground and Two Pavans
Leonore d’Este: Motets from Musica quinque vocum
                          Tribulationes civitatum audivimus, part 1
                          Angustie mihi sunt undique
Peter Maxwell Davies: Tenebrae Super Gesualdo
Carlo Gesualdo: O vos omnes
Peter Maxwell Davies: Eight Songs for a Mad King

Alex Bumpas in the role of King George III
Jacob Schnitzer, Conductor

Nick Goodwin, Flute
Ryan Stockhausen, Clarinet
Jordan Walsh, Percussion 
Kelsey Nelson, Keyboards 
Nick Montopoli, Violin 
James Burch, Cello 
Maureen Broy Papovich, Soprano
Rebekah Smeltzer Staley, Soprano
Bonnie Bogovich, Alto
Tiffany Cadenhead, Alto
A
lex Johnson, Bass


FANTASIA ON A GROUND
AND TWO PAVANS
HENRY PURCELL (1659-1695) AND
PETER MAXWELL DAVIES (1934-2016)

The originals of all three pieces are to be found in volume XXX (1959) of The Works of Henry Purcell, edited by the Purcell Society (Novello, 1878-1965), the Fantasia under the title ‘Fantasia: Three Parts on a Ground’.

“I have long been fascinated by Purcell’s music, but utterly bored by well-meaning ‘authentic’ performances, which possibly get every double-dotted rhythm right but convey no sense of Purcell’s intensity of feeling, sense of fun and sheer outrageousness. I feel the profoundest respect for the ‘great’ composers of the past, but have no feeling of slavish reverence towards them whatever – after all, they were living, real people, not priests. Already in the early 1960s I used Monterverdi’s Vespers in original compositions and, as a preparatory stage in the composition process, reworked several great chunks of that work for the choir and orchestra of Cirencester Grammar School, where I was teaching – and I suspect that, paradoxically, I came a great deal nearer to the sound and spirit of the original, with an orchestration including clarinets and valve trumpets, than many a ‘pure’ version, discreetly and beautifully performed. Musical purity in these matters is about as interesting as moral purity. I am sure that many people will consider my Purcell realizations wholly immoral.”
~Peter Maxwell Davies

MOTETS FROM
MUSICA QUINCE VOCUM
LEONORE D’ESTE (1515-1575)


Tribulationes civitatum
audivimus quas passae sunt, et deficimus.
Domine, ad te sunt oculi nostri, ne pereamus.
W
e have heard the tribulations which the cities have suffered, and have wasted away. 
O Lord, our eyes are turned to thee: let us not perish.

Angustiae mihi sunt
undique
et quid eligam ignoro
melius est mihi incidere in manus hominum
quam derelinquere legem dei mei

I am straitened on every side,
and what I shall choose I know not.
It is better for me to fall into the hands of men
than to abandon the laws of my God.

"But Virginia Woolf was right when she said: “Anonymous was a woman.” Respectable ladies were also not supposed to enter the marketplace, so if their work did appear in print it would often do so without a name, or – as we know from later centuries – under a pseudonym... We will never know how much 16th-century music published anonymously, or by composers for whom we can find no biographical detail, was by women… But the church’s hierarchy was divided on the issue. Some thought nuns singing polyphony were doing God’s work, and called their choirs “celestial sirens”, as the beautiful sound of their voices drew more people to worship. But others were of the opinion that they were doing the devil’s work, because music made the sisters susceptible to vanity... Hearing these motets, I really understood for the first time why the bishops were so queasy about nuns’ singing."
~Laurie Stras, musicologist

TENEBRAE SUPER GESUALDO
PETER MAXWELL DAVIES AND CARLO GESUALDO

O vos omnes qui transitis per viam, 
attendite et videte: 
Si est dolor similis sicut dolor meus. 
O, all you who pass by the way,
Attend and see:
if there is pain and sorrow like the the pain and sorrow that is mine.

Davies discovers aspects of himself in examining one of his most troubled predecessors. That discovery can take place either on his home ground (in the mezzo-soprano version, writen for The Fires of London), or with chorus singing Gesualdo's O Vos Omnes and repeatedly falling silent so that the musical argument may continue on a different plane, that of Davies's four meditations for sextet, murmuring darkly about Gesualdo's ideas.

—INTERMISSION—

EIGHT SONGS FOR A MAD KING
PETER MAXWELL DAVIES

1. The Sentry (King 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 Conterfaite)
7. Country Dance (Scotch Bonnett)
8. The Review (A Spanish March)


Composed in 1969, Eight Songs for a Mad King sets text by Randolph Stow and King George III (1738-1820) suggested by a miniature mechanical organ that was once the property of George III.   The king’s disturbing decline is reflected in the myriad of difficult extended vocal techniques written originally for baritone Roy Hart who was capable of reaching extreme ranges and producing chords with his voice. Davies chillingly writes “the sounds made by human beings under extreme duress, physical and mental, will be at least in part familiar”. 

Each of the eight songs is a parody of a historical musical object or style.  There are direct quotations of Handel’s Messiah, an 18th Century dance suite found in “The Phantom Queen”, a modern foxtrot in the “Country Dance”.  Everything comes to a head at the end of the seventh song…  an observant audience member will surely know when the greatest violence of the work is unleashed!  A smashingly good time, Eight Songs of a Mad King is always sure to disturb and delight.

”Until quite recently ‘madness’ was regarded as something at which to laugh and jeer. The King’s historically authentic quotations from The Messiah in the work evoke this sort of mocking response in the instrumental parts – the stylistic switch is unprepared, and arouses an aggressive reaction. I have, however, quoted far more than The Messiah: if not the notes, at least aspects of the styles of many composers are referred to, from Handel to Birtwistle. In some ways, I regard the work as a collection of musical objects borrowed from many sources, functioning as musical ‘stage props’, around which the reciter’s part weaves, lighting them from extraordinary angles, and throwing grotesque and distorted shadows from them, giving the musical ‘objects’ an unexpected and sometimes sinister significance. For instance, in No. 5, ‘The Phantom Queen’, an eighteenth-century suite is intermittently suggested in the instrumental parts; in the Courante, at the words “Starve you, strike you”, the flute part hurries ahead in a 7/6 rhythmic proportion and the clarinet’s rhythms become dotted, its part displaced by octaves, the effect being schizophrenic. In No. 7, the sense of ‘Comfort Ye, My People’ is turned inside out by the King’s reference to Sin, and the ‘Country Dance’ of the title becomes a foxtrot. The written-down shape of the music of No. 3 forms an actual cage, of which the vertical bars are the King’s line, and the flute (bullfinch) part moves between and inside them."
~Peter Maxwell Davies


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Nicholas Perry Clark, co-Artistic and Executive Director
Chris Padilla, Operations Manager
Laura Crabbe, Marketing Director
Bob Hoffnar, Sound Engineer
Big Medium, Venue Host