The poems forming the text of this work were suggested by a miniature mechanical organ playing eight tunes, once the property of George III. The King struggled to teach his caged bullfinches to make the music which he could so rarely torture out of his flute and harpsichord. He would sing to them with his ravaged voice made inhuman by day-long soliloquies. The songs are to be understood as the King's monologue while listening to his birds perform, and incorporate some sentences actually spoken by George III. The flute, clarinet, violin and cello represent the bullfinches that the King was trying to teach to sing. In the performance the instrumentalists representing the birds sat within spotlit golden cages.

Maxwell-Davies acknowledged that within his work, he had drawn on many styles from different composers: Handel, Birtwistle, twenties foxtrot and other influences.

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Back stage story and painting by Richard Armstrong

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Index page "Eight Songs for a Mad King"