Die Letzten Tage (1992)

This set of violin duos was written for Alex Balanescu and Claire Connors to play at the opening of an exhibition in Seville in 1992 called The Last Days. The title of the exhibition came from the sardonic writings of the Austrian Karl Kraus, especially his satirical play The Last Days of Humanity (1922). The idea of the exhibition was to produce work for the end of the century, but quietly, in an anti-millennium spirit. The piece falls into 5 separate sections: "The Roman Ending", "The Venetian Beginning", First Intermezzo, Second Intermezzo and "The Corinthian Middle". I wrote this last section first, in 1990, for a performance by Alex with Liz Perry at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, though always with the intention of adding other parts. Some of the sections have operatic connotations. "The Corinthian Middle" paraphrases material from my opera Medea, from the section where Medea seeks to find a solution to her conflict with Jason. "The Roman Ending" alludes to Rossini's perverse ending to his Otello for a performance in Rome, where Desdemona and Othello kiss and make up, and then sing a final love-duet (with equivalent perversity this is the first of the set of pieces). Both operas have connections with Venice: Medea having been commissioned by La Fenice but never performed there, Otello being set in Venice hence "The Venetian Beginning".

Although the pieces are technically difficult - multiple stopping, high register solos, accurate artificial harmonics - the music has a surface which suggests otherwise.

Gavin Bryars.