A short madrigal for seven voices - three sopranos; countertenor; tenor; baritone; bass

Note : Solitude Note

Solitude Note

In 2010 the Akademie Schloss Solitude, near Stuttgart in Germany, celebrated its twentieth anniversary with a series of events and projects.

For the anniversary evening - July 17 - at the Theaterhaus, Stuttgart the festival organizers planned four concerts in four different rooms; each with a different ensemble constellation featuring short compositions by as many former composition fellows as possible. Each composer was asked to follow the rule that each composition should begin and end with the Tristan Chord (B-F, D#-G# or Eb-Ab), thus separating the individual compositions for the listener during the concert.

 The Tristan Chord functions as the connection between the individual contributions.

At the invitation of his good friend Jean-Baptiste Joly (director of the Akademie since its inception) Gavin Bryars wrote an unaccompanied vocal piece, the "Solitude Madrigal", for Neue Vocalsolisten Suttgart


"Nova angeletta" (Petrarch: Rime Sparse 106)


Nova angeletta sovra l'ale accorta

scese dal cielo in su la fresca riva

là 'nd' io passava sol per mio destino.


Poi che senza compagna et senza scrota

mi vide, un laccio che di seta ordiva

tese fra l'erba ond' è verde il camino.


Allor fui preso, et non mi spiacque poi,

si dolce lume uscia degli occhi suoi.


A new little angel on agile wings came down from heaven to the fresh shore where I was walking alone by my destiny.

Since she saw me without companion and without guide, a silken snare which she was making she stretched in the grass wherewith the way is green.

Then I was captured, and it did not displease me later, so sweet a light came from her eyes!

(Translation by Robert M Durling)






Text: P.K. Page
Duration: c. 4’
Instrumentation: contralto voice, 6 celli, 4 basses, percussion (bass drum, tam-tam, cymbal)
First Performance: Centennial Hall Winnipeg; Holly Cole, voice, members of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, conductor Bramwell Tovey

Note : The Apple (1998)

The Apple (1998)

Like Planet Earth, The Apple was written for the Canadian jazz singer Holly Cole to perform at the 1999 Winnipeg New Music Festival, thrown in as a bonus to the commission from the CBC, and also sets a poem by P.K. Page. Holly's voice is very low, and the highest note that she suggested I write for her, B in the middle of the treble clef, is a note which can be sung by a reasonable tenor voice. As a consequence I decided to emphasise this low and husky quality, which works beautifully when sung using a microphone, with a parallel and very dark orchestration. I wrote for 6 solo cellos, 4 solo basses, and untuned percussion (bass drum, tam-tam, suspended cymbal). The piece is very short, lasting only 4 minutes or so.

I have since made a version for my own ensemble to play. This gives an instrumentation of 2 violas, cello, bass, bass clarinet, electric guitar, percussion, plus low female voice.

Duration: 17’
Instrumentation: 2 Pan-pipes, 2 alto saxophones, bass-clarinet, 2 sampling keyboards, octopads (with sampler), 5-string violin, 5-string cello, electric guitar, electric bass
First Performance: Bristol, April 18th 1993

Note : The Archangel Trip (1992)

The Archangel Trip (1992)

This piece, written for Icebreaker, uses most of the instruments available within its unique line-up. The title, and aspects of the musical imagery, comes from a pun derived from Icebreaker's name and inspired by a documentary film about two Russian icebreakers that ply the seas above the northern coasts of Russia. The home port of the ships is the north-western town of Archangel and the two ships move independently through these frozen and inhospitable seas - one sailing from east to west, the other from west to east - and meeting occasionally when their paths cross. The piece, then, becomes a kind of journey, moving from one musical state to another. It begins and ends in home territory, a sequence of drones derived from Japanese court music. The central section is an extended arioso for saxophones, doubled at times by the electric guitar using an E-bow, accompanied by electric strings, rough-hewn percussion and hocketting pan-pipes.

The idea for the piece was suggested in part by Jules Verne's novel Measuring a Meridian.

Text: Jules Verne (from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea)
Duration: c.15’
Instrumentation: Soprano and organ.
First performance: Leicester Cathedral, 22 January 1991

Note : The Black River (1991)

The Black River (1991)

for soprano and organ

This piece is one of a series of works that take texts or imagery from the work of Jules Verne. Here the text is taken from  20,000 Leagues under the Sea, a section in which Professor Aronnax describes the scene outside the Nautilus where countless varieties of sea-creatures escort the submarine along the current of the mysterious underwater  Black River. Coincidentally the first work that I wrote using Verne as a source, the cantata Effarene (1984), sets an earlier portion of the same chapter for its closing movement and I find the objectivity and invention of Verne's language a constant stimulus. As Raymond Queneau said of Verne: "What a style! Nothing but nouns."

The piece was written for a concert given by the organist Christopher Bowers-Broadbent at Leicester Cathedral in January 1991 and later recorded by him with soprano Sarah Leonard for ECM New Series in 1993.


For string quartet, double bass, piano, percussion
First performance Mr McFall's Chamber, East Neuk Festival June 2007

Note : The Church closest to the Sea (2007)

The Church closest to the Sea (2007)

For string quartet, double bass, piano, percussion

Although ostensibly for a quite conventional instrumentation, the piece reflects something of the unusual character of the ensemble that commissioned it  - Mr McFall's Chamber - and its eclectic approach to repertoire. It features the solo pizzicato double bass, employing the subtly free rhythmic approach of the jazz ballad, with cameo solo parts for the other string instruments. The impetus to write the piece came from a chance meeting with bassist Rick Standley on a flight from Valencia in 2002, which alerted me to the group's ethos. As bassists we found that we had a great deal in common, although we have diametrically opposed views on the electric bass - an instrument which he plays beautifully, but which I loathe.

The title of the work relates to the ensemble's Scottish origins, and to the location of the work's premiere in the East Neuk (the ancient name for Fife). Many years ago I attended a friend's wedding, conducted in English and Scots, in the very lovely 750-year-old St Monans Church, a church built on the rocks by the Firth of Forth, and being the church closest to the sea in Scotland.

It is dedicated to Mr McFall's Chamber

Gavin Bryars, June 2007


Duration: 7’
Instrumentation: 2 violins
Dedicated to Alexander Balanescu, Liz Perry and John Carney
First performance (no.2): St Paul's Hall Huddersfield (Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival) 2 December 1990
(NB. also included as part of Die Letzten Tage , q.v. 1992)

Duration: 12’
Instrumentation: ‘elastic’ scoring. Ensemble comprises: i) piano. ii) 2 marimbas or l marimba and l bass marimba, or l marimba and l vibes, or l marimba. iii) viola and/or violin,
and/or treble viol, optional clarinet, and/or 2nd violin. iv) violin, and/or bass clarinet, and/or tuba or bass, optional steel drums and shakers.
First performance: Chapelle de la Sorbonne, Paris (Festival d'Automne),
16 November 1979.

Duration 15'
Dedication: Lawrence Cherney
Instrumentation: Bass oboe solo; chamber orchestra
First performance. Lawrence Cherney, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, conductor Bramwell Tovey, Winnipeg January 1995

Note : The East Coast (1994)

The East Coast (1994)

for bass oboe and orchestra

I had met the oboist Lawrence Cherney when he invited me to Canada for a series of concerts in the Glenn Gould Studio in 1993. When he asked me for a piece to perform at the Winnipeg New Music Festival I had to balance my admiration for his wonderful musicianship with my personal distaste for the oboe ( in my opera Medea I had replaced the oboes with saxophones). However, I pointed out that this antipathy lessens as the pitch range lowers (via the oboe d'amore, through the cor anglais, to the bass oboe) and suggested therefore a concerto for bass oboe. The French instrument maker Lorée provided Lawrence with a fine instrument which - fortunately, as I'd included the note - had the low B flat key. In keeping with the dignity and melancholy inherent in the instrument's sound the piece does not feature virtuosic display but rather focuses on its ability to sustain long melodic phrases of an elegiac character. In this I had in mind the lovely bass oboe solo in Grainger's The Warriors.

This piece is the third in a series of four for solo instrument and accompaniment (piano and/or orchestra) in which each one has a title with a personal geographical connotation taken from the four cardinal points. The first, The Green Ray, a concerto for soprano saxophone and orchestra, relates to western coasts (of Scotland and southern California); the second, The North Shore, for viola, refers to the image of facing north from St. Hilda's Abbey at Whitby; this third, for bass oboe, is connected both to the east coast of North Yorkshire and to the Bay of Fundy in Canada; and the last, for cello, called The South Downs alludes to the southern coast of England. Those pieces that face in opposite directions, as it were, are in effect mirror images of each other, though coloured by the character of their implied location. With the two string pieces the viola piece's implied austerity is balanced by the cello piece's warmth. In the case of the pieces for reed instruments, therefore, the bass oboe concerto is a much cooler, bleaker variant of The Green Ray.

The piece was commissioned by Lawrence Cherney with additional funds made available by the Arts Council of England.

Gavin Bryars

Duration: 6’
Instrumentation: 2 vibes, 6 roto-toms ( 4 players)
First performance: Air Gallery, London 23 April 1980.

Duration: 20’
Dedicated to John Harle and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta.
Commissioned by the Bournemouth Sinfonietta.
Instrumentation:  Solo soprano saxophone and orchestra
1(picc),1 + Cor.A.,1(Bs.cl),2(contra);
2, Flugelhorn,1,0;
piano, Percussion (1 player- bass drum, tam-tam, glockenspiel, bells, cymbal)
Strings ( n.b. 21 part divisi  essential.
First performance: St. Mary’s Church, Swanage, July 6th 1991.

Note : The Green Ray

The Green Ray

(for soprano saxophone and orchestra)

The piece is dedicated to John Harle and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, who commissioned it with funds made available by South West Arts. It makes use of the saxophone's ability to play long expressive melodic passages, and was written too, having seen the Sinfonietta perform, with some of its individual players in mind. Although played without a break, the piece does fall into a number of recognisable sections delineated by a change of tempo, or by a substantial shift of texture. For example, shortly before the end, there is a passage where the saxophone is accompanied by 21 solo strings - the entire string section playing divisi - followed by a coda, which contains simultaneous  "laments" (for saxophone, cor anglais, French horn, and solo violin).

The Green Ray is the title of a romantic novel by Jules Verne, set in the West of Scotland, in which a peculiar atmospheric phenomenon plays the key part. A "green ray" is seen at sunset in certain latitudes, and in certain coastal conditions, just as the sun touches the horizon and, for a brief moment, the orange sun emits a green ray of light. In the Verne story the simultaneous sighting of the ray will seal a couple's love, and the attempts of a young man to do this are constantly frustrated (by sudden clouds, by a yacht passing along the horizon, and so on). This part of Western Scotland is also the place where certain piping traditions originated. Male pipers practised in one cave on the seashore, females in another (the "piper's cave" and the "pigeon's cave"). As they played their laments at twilight a triangulation, similar to that in the Verne story (male-ray-female) may well have occurred without the knowledge of the innocent participants, hence the sequence of simultaneous laments in the coda.

On one occasion I witnessed the green ray in Southern California. I was returning along the coast after having climbed up Mt.Tecate, on the top of which is a house, now empty, where Evans-Wentz translated The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Gavin Bryars