WHAT ARE THESE DISCS ABOUT?

 

The material used in these CDs is taken from performances given by Roy Hart during his life time. For example, here is how the English press responded to a number of different productions when Roy Hart first performed them :-

"VERSATILE VOICE"

 

"But brilliant though the presentation was (the composer conducted), the performance hinged absolutely, on the vocal versatility (and to a less extent the acting) of Roy Hart, described as reciter, but also a musician of astonishing range; from the highest piping treble to the richest bass, and one with, moreover, a capacity for producing chords with his voice.
One wonders indeed if the work could by performed at all with out this remarkable personal tour de force which so captivated last night's audience."
Ernest Bradbury, Yorkshire Post 26/6/69

 

AND

 

The Mockery of madness

by Desmond Taylor


It was a strange, often exhilarating sometimes haunting, sometimes painful series of experiences that the Pierrot Players brought us at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday. The evening began in high spirits. Peter Maxwell Davies leapt on to the stage, this time in a turquoise rollneck pullover (he is easily the most elegant of our composers and conductors, and a big relief to eyes weary of the old soup-and-fish), and led the virtuoso group in his short and stimulating quasi-overture, " Antechnst."
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,With Harrison Birtwistle's "Linol 11” the temperature dropped. To one of those "inbred" pieces in which live instruments are combined with a tape originating from their own previous performance of the same music a female dancer described a very slow curve from supine immobility through gradual awakening and an excitable climax, then back to immobility as before. The total effect was empty
,;,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,Next , to celebrate the impending eightieth birthday of the London head of Universal Edition, Dr Kalmus we had a composite tribute called "A Garland for Dr K" On such occasions little more than workshop shavings can reasonably be expected, but this level was once or twice transcended: notably in Richard Rodney Bennett's slight but graceful flute Impromptu, and in Benio's charmingly droll disarrangement of a Purcell hornpipe.
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,An this, though it took us as far as the interval, was no more than the prologue to the main business of .the evening, a semi-theatrical piece called “Eight Songs for a Mad King” by Maxwell Davies. The mad king was George III, into whose mouth Randolph Stow has put a series of poems which horribly convey his half-aware and incorporate a number of sentences actually spoken by him in that condition. We see the King “in his purple flannel dressing-gown and ermine night-cap, struggling to teach birds to make the music which .he could so rarely torture out of his flute and harpsichord; or trying to sing with them, in that ravaged voice made almost inhuman by day-long soliloquies."
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,He is ushered into our presence and grotesquely dismissed some thirty-five minutes later by a series of dreadful crescendo or diminuendo thwacks on the big drum, which symbolises his “keeper” and for most of the time we see him in a desperate soliloquy or in wheedling, exasperated colloquy with his “bullfinches, who are the flautist, and cellist of the group, each seated within a spotlit golden cage. The instrumental birds squeak and gibber, and seem to mock the madman all but the first the flute, in whose twittering duet with the voice I seemed to detect a note of pity and tenderness: something, even, that reminded me for a moment of the dialogue between Madwoman and flute in Britten's"Curlew River.".
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,The King's part was sung and mimed, howled and squealed over a compass of some five octaves with astonishing virtuosity by that extraordinary performer, Roy Hart, whom we last heard in the same hall a few months ago as the reciter of Henze's “Versuch über Schweine." It is difficult to imagine that the work could have any other protagonist. Those cracked and crazy extreme falsetto notes, wild glissandos and sudden moaning swoops into deep bass, which are the result of the late Dr Alfred Wolfsohn's theories of vocal extension, have here at last found their perfect use.
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,The music shows such evident dramatic power as to make us eager to hear the opera, "Taverner" which the composer has now completed. As he himself recognises, the new "Songs" show a further development of the expressionist style used in his Georg Traki monologue, "Revelation and Fall" "to explore certain extreme regions of experience". There 'is a vocal line of still more "terrifying virtuosity" (his own phrases) than that demanded of Mary Thomas in the earlier work, and a similar indulgence in his compulsive love (it amounts to his own, almost royal, mania) for multifarious parody, parody within parody, like a set of Chinese boxes.
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,All listeners must have noted an appropriate quotation from George III's beloved "Messiah"; and the composer acknowledges numerous further references to "aspects of the styles of many composers, from Handel to Birtwistle". Though some of these passed over our heads (or anyhow over mine) at a first hearing, there was no missing the twenties' foxtrot that heralded the dreadful climax, when the king snatches the violin through the bars of the player's cage and “breaks" it; and it was this moment that crystallised a sensed a of disquiet that had been growing in my mind for some while.
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,The disquiet was perhaps more ethical than aesthetic, insofar as these spheres can be separated. As the composer reminded us in his programme note, madness was for long regarded as something at which to laugh and jeer; and he has consciously written this mocking reaction into the instrumental parts that surround and almost peck at the voice. But what about his, and our, reactions? Except in the early episode with the flute that I have mentioned above (and I dare say I am quite wrong about that: perhaps it was only a Britten parody) I could find in these "Songs” little of the pity or compassion that could best justify so prolonged a gaze into Bedlam when the jaunty of the deranged tune and rhythm of the twenties foxtrot (which we already know to be a Davies obsession) rang through the hall, it was difficult not to feel that we were all having fun at the expense of the poor, tormented old man.
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,It was this uneasy impression that made the brilliant and dramatic piece seem painful as well as disturbing. Though there were some scattered protests during the performance the virtuosity of the composer and of his interpreters aroused prolonged and enthusiastic applause at its end.

The Sunday Times 27 April 1969

 

AND FINALLY, HERE IS A PRESS REVIEW ON ONE OF THE RHT PRODUCTIONS OF THE SAME YEAR 1969
 

By Michael Billington

"Anyone who has faithfully studied the experimental theatre troupes whose work has been seen in London during the past two years must have been struck by one thing : the extent to which their methods and approach overlap. It is not immediately easy to tell whether this is because they are are worshippers at the same shrine. Artaud, or because they have independently arrived at similar conclusions about the theatre : either way the core of unity, under the surface variations, is fascinating to observe.

I have just seen, for instance, the Roy Hart Theatre (an English company based on Belsize Park) giving a single performance of their version of "The Bacchae" at The Place in Dukes Road. For the first half of the evening a group of 20 or more acted and reenacted a ritual of death and rebirth, conducted a series of musically accompanied. vocal experiments which produce some unearthly, marrow-freezing sounds and collectively demonstrated an extraordinary physical plasticity. Thus prepared, they launched into a non-realistic, almost impressionist version of Euripides's play (Dionysus, for instance, was represented by three actors and Agave by a man) in which they tried to communicate its meaning through the isolation of key lines and speeches and through the use of patterned sound and movement.

As an experiment it had a lot in common with Peter Brooke's Roundhouse version of The Tempest: the same exhaustive attention to a single phrase, the same emphasis on non-verbalized sound and the same attempt to mould a group into a single entity. It was, in fact, extremely impressive as a demonstration of disciplined communal theatre and such incidents as the death and rebirth ritual, with myriad hands fluttering like leaves in a breeze, were handled with delicate precision. My sole doubt is a familiar one: productions like this depend very heavily on a foreknowledge of the written text. We have, in fact, to rely on old fashioned, verbal theatre to tell us what a play is actually about and to provide us with the necessary background to enjoy experiments in psychodrama of this kind."

 

Index page Eight Songs

 

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