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Chatter presents English composer’s piece inspired by ‘Mad King’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — King George III talked so incessantly that foam bubbled from his lips.

He sometimes suffered from convulsions so severe his pages had to sit on him to keep him safe on the floor.

Baritone Michael Hix will perform as part of Chatter Sunday on Sunday, Sept. 15.

Depending on which researcher you believe, the king who lost the colonies suffered either from the genetic blood disorder porphyria or bipolar disorder. His madness has been explored in both film and on stage. He ruled for 60 years.

On Sunday, Sept. 15, Chatter will present English composer Peter Maxwell Davies’ “Eight Songs for a Mad King” with baritone Michael Hix at Las Puertas Event Center. Hix teaches voice at the University of New Mexico.

This “monodrama” shocked listeners when it premiered in 1969.

“It’s an incredible piece of music,” Hix said. “It’s a sort of one-man opera.”

The instruments play characters, including the finches the king kept as pets.

Other voices reflect his mania and madness.

“The score looks like a bird cage,” Hix said. “It took me a little bit of time to decipher it.”

The libretto, written by Randolph Stow, is based on the words of King George III. Davies fashioned the vocal part into a wild and fantastical tour-de-force of extended vocal techniques requiring a five-octave range.

“I have expanded my growl register down below the bass clef,” Hix said. “I’ve had to inhale and make some crazy sounds.”

The piece has lingered on Hix’s bucket list for 20 years.

“It’s such a dramatic work,” he said. “A lot of avant-garde music from this time period is very conceptual.”

Now in his eighth year at UNM, Hix also taught voice at Alabama’s Troy University.

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