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.


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

Text: Jules Verne ( from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea)
Duration: 16’30”
Dedicated to Delphine Seyrig.
Commissioned by Nicola Walker Smith.
Instrumentation:  Low mezzo-soprano voice, electronics, digital tape (realised at Autograph Studios, London).
First performance: Nettlefold Festival, London September 21st 1991.
Instrumentation (ii) low contralto voice, 2 violins, viola, cello, 2 double basses, 2 percussion, electric keyboard.
First performance: Amphitheatre Opera-Bastille, Paris December 9th 1992

Note : The White Lodge

The White Lodge

The White Lodge, originally for voice and electronics also exists in a version arranged for low contralto voice and string sextet (2 violins, viola, cello, 2 basses) It was written in 1991 to be recorded by the mezzo soprano Nicola Walker Smith and is dedicated to Delphine Seyrig.

I met Delphine for the first time when we worked together on Robert Wilson's The CIVIL WarS and found ourselves rehearsing and sketching the piece in the Monastère de la Sainte Baume near Marseilles in the bitter winter of early 1984. We became close friends and always sat together at lunch and dinner, where she tried to dissuade me from my developing vegetarianism while relishing the opportunity to speak in her impeccable English with the only non-American English speaker in the ensemble. She had previously come across my work through recordings which her son Duncan possessed and one of these, Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet, offered some solace during her mother's last illness, which had caused her to leave the monastery prematurely. We continued to see each other over the years. I was particularly touched on two occasions: first when she and Coralie dashed in a taxi, still wearing their make-up, from a matinée performance of Letters Home to the final performance of the Bryars/Wilson Medea at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées; and second when Sami Frey was using my music for his stunning version of Je Me Souviens and we had a late afternoon drink together  in Avignon just before she dashed off to, I think, Ulan Bator to complete some filming. I was immensely saddened by her death and the least I could do was to write something in her memory.

The White Lodge is one of three pieces I wrote that year which have a common source in the work of Jules Verne. Two of these use texts from Vingt Mille Lieues Sous La Mer. In the case of The White Lodge this is a passage which describes the transformation of the night sea to a milky white colour through the presence of countless tiny sea creatures. I share with Roussel and Queneau an unqualified admiration for Verne: as Queneau said "What a style! Nothing but nouns!"

'The White Lodge' in David Lynch's Twin Peaks, like the phenomenon described by Professor Aronnax, is a place encountered only by those who have acquired the means to locate it.

Note : Text of The White Lodge

Text of The White Lodge

The White Lodge is one of three pieces I wrote that year which have a common source in the work of Jules Verne. Two of these use texts from Vingt Mille Lieues Sous La Mer. In the case of The White Lodge this is a passage which describes the transformation of the night sea to a milky white colour through the presence of countless tiny sea creatures.


Text (Vingt Mille Lieues Sous La Mer - deuxième partie)

Vers sept heures du soir, le Nautilus à demi immergé navigua au milieu d'une mer de lait. À perte de vue l'océan semblait être lactifié. Était-ce l'effet des rayons lunaires? Non, car la lune, ayant deux jours à peine, était encore perdue au dessous de l'horizon dans les rayons du soleil. Tout le ciel, quoique éclairé par le rayonnement sidéral, semblait noir par contraste avec la blancheur des eaux. "C'est ce qu'on appelle une mer de lait - vaste étendue de flots blancs quie se voit fréquemment sur les côtes d'Amboine et dans ces parages...Cette blancheur n'est due qu'à la présence de myriades de bestioles infusoires, sorts de petits vers lumineaux, d'un aspect gélatineux et incolore, de l'épaisseur d'un cheveu, et dont la longueur ne dépasse pas un cinquième de millimètre. Quelques-unes de ces bestioles adhèrent entre elles pendant l'espace de plusieurs lieues"...

Pendant plusieurs heures le Nautilus trancha de son éperon ces flots blanchâtres, et je remarquai qu'il glissait sans bruit sur cette eau savonneuse, comme s'il eut flotté dans ces remous d'écume que les courants et les contre-courants des baies laissaient quelquefois entre eux. Ver minuit, la mer reprit subitement sa teinte ordinaire mais, derrière nous, jusqu'aux limites de l'horizon, le ciel, réfléchissant la blancheur des flots, sembla longtemps impregné de vagues lueurs d'une aurore boréale.

Gavin Bryars