Super Flumina (2000)

for four voices (counter tenor, 2 tenors, baritone)

Commissioned for the Orlanda Consort by the York Early Music Foundation, Super Flumina was written specially for the opening of their new centre. To this end the piece marries the ideas that the Orlando Consort has begun to explore in developing works from Œfragments' of extant musical texts with the context of the piece's first performance. The piece focuses on a legend associated with St. Mary's Abbey in York whereby, in 1377, fishermen brought the lifeless body of a 14 year-old girl, who had fallen into the Ouse, into the chapel. The monks prayed that the Virgin would intercede and had begun to sing the anthem Ave Regina Caelorum when the girl regained consciousness. After a night in the chapel she recovered completely.

The piece does not attempt to tell the story in a literal way, but rather approaches the legend through a series of musical and textual fragments: the hymn Ave Regina Caelorum; the text of the Psalm "By the waters... (Psalm 137, but 136 in the old Latin bible); coincidences of phrases between the various texts, as well as divergences of text within different settings of the same material (for example, Dufay's setting of Ave Regina Caelorum sets substantially different words for the third line).

The piece was written specifically for the Orlando Consort with very particular attention to the tessitura of each voice and to the perceived ways of combining voices in different registers. One of the pleasures of working with early music performers is the intelligence and invention which they bring to the performance of music which has laid dormant or has never been heard before and which often involves decision making of a very high order. This investigative approach is also something which they bring to the performance of completely new music which, until their intervention, can only remain on the manuscript paper like faint scratches on fading parchment.

Gavin Bryars