First Book of Madrigals (1998-2000)

In 1998 I embarked on a project to write a series of madrigals for the Hilliard Ensemble, collected in books' in the manner of the Italian madrigalists, such as Monteverdi or Gesualdo. I asked my long-time collaborator Blake Morrison if he would be interested in writing some new poems based on the form and content of the Renaissance madrigals (John Potter of the Hilliard pointed out that basically they were chiefly about love and sex - whether an absence or abundance of either). I wanted to have some ready for the Lockerbie Memorial Concert at Westminster Cathedral in December 1998, especially as they were commissioned by Rita and Martin Cadman, to whom they are dedicated.

The first two, in four parts, were written in a single day at the end of November in order to send them by fax from Victoria (British Columbia) to the Hilliard Ensemble in England as they were about to go on tour and wouldn't be together again as a foursome until shortly before the concert on December 21st. I was told shortly afterwards that three members of the group were going to be touring together and could rehearse some three-part madrigals on tour, and so I wrote another 2, again in a single day, and faxed them from Canada. As each of these single days was a Monday, I decided that each of the songs in the first book would be written on Mondays - and I stuck to this plan when I added a fifth one for a session of filming for a TV profile made by Hessischer Rudfunk in 1999. Blake published a group of poems as "Madrigalia" in his collection of Selected Poems (Granta 1999).

In the summer of 2000 I decided to complete the book, interrupting the composition of the violin concerto I was writing for Paul Manley and the Primavera Chamber Orchestra. So each successive Monday in July, up to the first Monday in August, I wrote madrigals - initially one per day, but on one Monday (July 17th) three and the following Monday two. I originally thought to write twelve, but ended up writing thirteen (eleven of the texts are included in Blake's volume of poetry). These were all sent to John Potter for the Hilliard to peruse and the reaction was both favourable and positive.
The consequence is, of course, that there will have to be seven books in all: the Second Book written on Tuesdays, the Third on Wednesdays and so on.... And I have already started planning the second book - reserving Tuesdays for this, once I start their composition.

Gavin Bryars.