Adnan Songbook (1996)

The songs in the Adnan Songbook set a group of eight Love Poems by the Lebanese writer Etel Adnan.

Etel left Beirut many years ago and now lives and works in California and Paris.
I collaborated with her on Robert Wilson's large scale operatic project, the CIVIL WarS in 1984, and one aria from that opera to words by Etel, "La Reine de la Mer", forms part of my cantata Effarene. We worked together, with a number of other performers and designers, in the isolated setting of the Monastery of La Sainte Baume in the mountains above Marseilles in a bitterly cold winter.

The first of the poems to be set was the fifth one which was written for Mary Wiegold and the Composers Ensemble in 1992. The first and second, sung by Sarah Leonard, were written in 1995, commissioned by the BBC for the 'Songbook' series as part of their 'Fairest Isle' season. The remainder were commissioned by the Almeida and written in 1996 for performance by Valdine Anderson with my ensemble and she gave the first complete performance in July 1996.

The instrumentation is a restrained one using only 6 players but with a combination of instrumental sonorities that characterise my ensemble: 2 violas, cello, double bass, electric guitar (doubling acoustic guitar) and bass clarinet (doubling clarinet). The vocal part, being for a high lyric soprano, was written for Valdine and in all cases the music is written with my own performers in mind. The bass-clarinet, for example, has long been one of my favourite instruments and I enjoy the possibility of its extreme ranges. With the electric guitar I generally prefer it to be played without attack, allowing sustained chords or melodic lines to complement those of the strings, and this grainy combination of electric guitar and low strings was one which I first used with Bill Frisell in After the Requiem (1990). The formation of the strings here provides in effect a kind of string quartet, transposed substantially downwards. For the last three songs the bass-clarinet moves to B flat clarinet, and the electric guitar changes to the classical acoustic instrument.

There are many cross-references between the songs, as there are between the poems, and three of them are extended by instrumental epilogues - viola for numbers 2 and 8, clarinet for number 6. The first two songs are played together without a break.

The Adnan Songbook is dedicated to my friends Jane Quinn and Martin Duignan.

Gavin Bryars.

Read Adnan Songbook Texts


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