1998

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Duration c. 25’
Dedication: The Lyric Quartet
First Performance: The Lyric Quartet, The Pump Room, Cheltenham July 15th 1998

Note : String Quartet no.3 (1998)

String Quartet no.3 (1998)

Apart from the 10 5-minute string quartets that I wrote in 1992 as the original version of A Man in a Room, Gambling, where they accompany Juan Muñoz's speaking voice and are therefore not 'pure' quartets, there are 8 years between my second and third quartets (there were only 4 years between the first and second). The third quartet alludes to a number of approaches to chamber music that I have touched on in those intervening years.

Among these is the section at the end of my Cello Concerto where the solo cello is accompanied only by 3 solo instruments (2 violins and a viola) as a reference to the concerto's connection with the music of Haydn, the 'father' of the string quartet. Although, in an academic sense, this reference may appear classical, in the concerto its musical effect is elegiac and even austere coming as it does at the end of long orchestral work. Shortly before the closing section of this quartet, therefore, I use an equivalent sequence of suspensions and resolutions but this time using only two instruments and, unlike in the concerto, the accompanying instruments - and the solo lines - do not remain the same throughout the passage.

Another element which finds its way into the quartet comes from my work with groups from the world of early music, particularly from the experience of writing for a consort of viols, a precursor of the string quartet, and for homogeneous vocal ensembles (the brief allusion to Gesualdo in this piece stems from the "apt for voices or viols" principle which found its way into the world of the madrigal). In several places I ask for little or no vibrato from the strings, occasionally preferring open strings and natural harmonics to stopped notes. In addition there are sections where I concentrate on the purer intervals. This self-imposed constraint is present throughout the work - in one section I only use major harmonies and in another only minor, for example.

Although I use the term 'section' in these notes, in fact the piece is in one continuous movement, played without a break.

I have known the members of the Lyric Quartet for a number of years both personally and professionally and I admire their work both as a quartet and as individual players. My third string quartet is dedicated to the Lyric Quartet and was commissioned by them with funds made available by South West Arts.

Gavin Bryars

 



Duration c. 10’
Dedication: Harmonia Trio
Instrumentation: clarinet, cello, piano

Note : Intermezzo (1998)

Intermezzo (1998)

This piece, for clarinet, cello and piano, was commissioned by the Italian group Harmonia and was written immediately after I finished writing the opera Doctor Ox's Experiment. The piece is extremely quiet throughout, going down to pppp at times and the tempo drops at one point a metronome marking of 30. It starts with an extended passage in unison and evolves into a kind of duet with passages modelled on the lieder of Hugo Wolf. It was written for a recording which would feature works of mine: The North Shore in the version for cello and piano, Allegrasco in the early version for clarinet and piano. Intermezzo, therefore, was designed to bring all three players together for the final piece of the album.

It is dedicated to Harmonia

 



Duration c.25’
Instrumentation: electric guitar, bass clarinet, electric keyboard, 2 violas, cello, double bass
First performance: La Botanique, Brussels, October 15th 1998

Note : After the Requiem (1990)

After the Requiem (1990)

The original After the Requiem had been written in 1990 for the electric guitar of Bill Frisell, plus 2 violas and cello (members of the Balanescu Quartet) specially for a recording by ECM. It is based on Cadman Requiem (1989) which had been written for the Hilliard Ensemble in memory of my friend and sound engineer Bill Cadman, who was killed in the Lockerbie air crash. The piece is "after" the Requiem both in the musical sense of being based on it, in the chronological sense of following on from it, and in the spiritual sense of representing that state which remains after mourning is (technically) over.

I had delayed for some time any live performance, preferring to see if it would be possible to find a moment when my diary and that of Bill Frisell might coincide. When this proved impossible I modified the piece slightly to perform it with my ensemble, featuring my guitarist James Woodrow and changing the string trio parts to viola, cello and bass (for myself to play).  In 1998 however I made an new version to include other players in my ensemble - bass clarinet, second viola, electric keyboard - and extended the music at the same time. I added a prelude to feature the solo bass clarinet, a section within the body of the music and an extension to the end which drew on the original source Invention of Tradition, for which Bill Cadman had done the sound design. I also lengthened the section in which the guitar improvises. This is the version which I now prefer to play with my own ensemble.

The dedication remains to the two Bills (Cadman and Frisell).



Duration: c. 37’
Dedication: Valdine Anderson and David James
Instrumentation: soprano, counter tenor, electric guitar, bass clarinet, piano (doubling electric keyboard), 2 violas, cello, bass, percussion (vibraphone, glockenspiel, bells, bass drum, tam-tam, sizzle cymbal)
First Performance: La Botanique, Brussels, October 16th 1998

Note : Duets from Doctor Ox's Experiment

Duets from Doctor Ox's Experiment

In my opera Doctor Ox's Experiment pair of young lovers are sung by a soprano and a counter tenor. They are doubled by another pair of lovers. with the same vocal pairing, who become their rivals in the second act. For this concert work, written for my ensemble, I took the points in the opera where duets between these voices take place, no matter which of the characters was singing, and adding last scene in which Suzel  sings solo, though with the distance voice of another male singer, the baritone Ygène, singing off stage. There are four parts to this concert piece.

Part One opens with a short instrumental opening using material from the very beginning of the opera, and dovetailed into the opening of what was scene 5. This has all the lovers' material from scene 5 - including the duet material sung by the other pair of lovers. In what were previously quartet sections, the two voices sing their own existing parts, the other two parts being taken by instruments. The part of Frantz has a couple of note changes to get rid of the more obvious unisons but Suzel's part is unchanged.

Part Two is the love duet which comprises the whole of Act One Scene 8 and is exactly as it appears in the opera. For the performances by my ensemble I played the jazz bass part.

Part Three has an instrumental section at the beginning to reflect the change for the beginning of the second act and is shorter and faster. This is the duet originally sung by Frantz's rival Fritz and Suzel.

Part Four is the Epilogue from the end of the opera. The soprano part is exactly as it was in the opera. The counter tenor sings Ygène's plaintive off-stage "Ox? Ox?", which is, in any case, quite high in the baritone voice and was sung as a 'head tone' by the baritone. This final section starts with the instrumental opening as it was in the original concert work Doctor Ox's Experiment (Epilogue) which I wrote in 1988 as a first draft for the opera (this instrumental music overlaps the end of Aunt Hermance's final aria in the opera itself).

 

 

 

 



Text: Blake Morrison
Duration c. 35’
Dedication: Martin and Rita Cadman
Instrumentation: ATTBar/ ATBar
First performance (3 of madrigals): Hilliard Ensemble, Westminster Cathedral, December 21st 1998

Note : First Book of Madrigals (1998-2000)

First Book of Madrigals (1998-2000)

In 1998 I embarked on a project to write a series of madrigals for the Hilliard Ensemble, eventually deciding to collect them in 'books' in the manner of Italian madrigalists, such as Monteverdi or Gesualdo. Indeed, having written many works for the Hilliard Ensemble I sought, in writing these new madrigals, to work within the spirit and aesthetic of those from the Italian Renaissance. 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 Renaissance madrigals (John Potter, then of the Hilliard, pointed out that they were chiefly about love and sex - whether an absence or difficulties or abundance of either). The settings are for 3, 4 or 5-part ensemble and the disposition of these ensembles varies. While most of the four-part madrigals are for alto, two tenors and baritone, there are some for three tenors and baritone. Equally of the 3 three-part settings two are for alto, tenor, baritone, while one is for two tenors and baritone.  The poems cover a wide emotional range. Some focus on the details of loving relationships - with a subtle eroticism or, at times, irony -  others deal with love in a more abstract sense.

There are many moments in these madrigals when the individual personalities, both musical and personal, of the member of the Hilliard Ensemble suggest approaches to word setting. The most thorough of these, in terms of the range of internal reference, is the fourth madrigal "Just as the ash-glow", while the last piece in the book "Against dieting", was added as an affectionate joke at the expense of the alto David James. But, as with any music written for particular performers, the work has to exist beyond the confines of the local circumstances of its generation and ultimately purely musical criteria overrule such concerns.

Coincidentally the first four settings were written on Mondays (the first three to be ready for the Lockerbie Memorial Concert at Westminster Cathedral in December 1998, the fourth for a session of filming for a TV profile made by Hessischer Rudfunk in 1999). I wrote the remaining nine on successive Mondays in the summer of 2000 in our summer home in Victoria BC, sometimes writing two, and once three, in a day. The songs are published in the order of their composition.

Second and third books of madrigals now exist, for different vocal formations (written on Tuesdays - 6 part -  and Wednesdays 3-part with lute - respectively)  and a fourth - 8-part - is under way.

The First Book of Madrigals is dedicated to my friends Rita and Martin Cadman

Note : First Book of Madrigals (published ED12679)

First Book of Madrigals (published ED12679)

  1. Web (ATTBar)
  2. Stormy (ATBar)
  3. Almond Tree (ATBar)
  4. Just as the ash-glow (ATTBar)
  5. Within minutes (ATTBar)
  6. Our bodies in the shower (ATTBar)
  7. She'd buy things (TTBar)
  8. All the homely arts and crafts (TTTBar)
  9. In April (ATTTBar)
  10. Who's the more to blame? (TTTBar)
  11. The print of soles (ATTTBar)
  12. My pomegranate (ATTTBar)
  13. Against Dieting (ATTTBar)

 

Note : Text of First Book of Madrigals

Text of First Book of Madrigals

 

1. Web (ATTB)

The spider's lurking-parlour

its vestibule of thread

the spin of it walls

closing in and round us

until the hall we entered

hoping to visit life

becomes the manor of our death.

No skylight over the door

no flue of air

only the trap of shadows

and darkness ripening

in the heart of the sun.

 

2. Stormy  (ATB)

I should have seen from your eyes

and the lightning which broke in them

the storms that lie ahead.

 

The white ecstasy of bedsheets,

smashed pots and broken furniture,

the forked static of your touch.

 

But storms pass like headaches do.

Today the rain, in carpet-tacks.

Alone together, we watch the rain.

 

3. Almond Tree (ATB)

We met under the fork of an almond tree

as March came slowly into leaf.

Our love blossomed like a snow-storm.

White confetti paved the street.

 

What are we to do now autumn's here?

Your eyes are cold, my arms have shrunk.

The years seem a tangle of dry twigs.

Can we get through them without love?

 

4. Just as the ash-glow...  (ATTB)

Just as the ash-glow

and cinder-light of the skies

lose all their lustre

once you've seen the moon rise,

 

and the volted daisies

and bruised delphiniums

pale into nothing

when the sunflower blooms,

 

and the swallows

plinking on their long string

sound merely garrulous

if you've heard the lapwing,

 

so the women I'd been eyeing

were a dimmed light

when you walked into vision

that first night.

 

5. Within minutes...  (ATTB)

Within minutes, our first conversation,

I knew.

Out of nowhere, from the rim of a glass,

the flash

of knowledge, as if their were no choice.

Sewn up.

Like the moment the plane drops through

the clouds

and the land spreads out its patchwork,

and you see,

in crushing detail, the future race to meet you.

Just like that.

 

6. Our bodies in the shower... (ATTB)

Our bodies in the shower.

The hisp and plather

of skins under the water.

The smoke coming off us.

The stream within the stream.

We were rinsed clean

of everything but desire.

 

7. She'd buy things...  (TTB)

She'd buy things, expecting our lives to flourish

because the objects surrounding them had changed.

My line was different: no matter how and where

we lived, we were what we were, unalterably.

 

8. All the homely arts and crafts...  (TTTB)

All the homely arts and crafts -

the soft plinth of a tongue,

the Guggenheim of an ear,

the weave of hands and hair -

 

are nothing next to the science

of those eyes unseen until tonight,

this lip lightly charred from

the soft combustion of a kiss.

 

9. In April... (ATTTB)

In April we'll fly to the Lebanon and live among the vines

and the vines will be young and tender

and our bed will smell of cinnamon

and I'll order them not to wake us till we please.

 

I'll keep you safe

If ever you're lost

I'll go about the streets and broadways

and find you and bring you to my bed.

 

10. Who's the more to blame... (TTTB)

Who's the more to blame?

You for having eyes

a soul could drown in?

Or me for falling in?

 

Let's not argue who's to blame.

The only points at issue

are the ones that shrink

and widen in your eyes.

 

My eyes have grown dim

from patrolling the days

like a camera lens,

trawling for your eyes.

 

Here's you in New York.

Here's you in London.

Your eyes are everywhere.

Where are your eyes?

 

11. The print of soles... (ATTTB)

The print of soles across the bathroom floor:

finding them, I felt like Crusoe, and stooped

to test their warmth and wetness, then rose

to follow where they led, not caring that

I knew the end already, as if she were

a stranger, this woman meeting my eyes

in the dressing-table mirror,

one towel tucked just above her bosom,

another knotted round her head,

and waterbeads still fresh on her nape

and shoulders, which I bent to kiss -

meeting your eyes again as I did -

for the first time ever in the world.

 

12. My pomegranate... (ATTTB)

My pomegranate in the wilderness

my sunlit fishpool

my August torrent

and winter coal.

 

No one can quench the flame

of this ecstasy

our love is strong as death

and rich as fire.

 

13. Against Dieting (ATTTB)

Please, darling, no more diets.

I've heard the talk and why it's

good for one's esteem. I've watched you

jogging lanes and pounding treadmills.

I've even shed two kilos of my own.

But enough. What are love-handles

between friends? For half a stone

it isn't worth the sweat.

I've had it up to here with crispbread.

I doubt the premise, too.

Try to see it from my point of view.

I want not less but more of you.

 

Note: The texts of these madrigals were commissioned from Blake Morrison to be set to music.  Subsequently Blake published 11 of these poems, along with others, under the title "Madrigalia" in his volume of Selected Poems (1999). The first ("Web") and last ("Against Dieting") set in my collection do not appear in that edition. The third ("Almond Tree") sets the original version of his poem, which differs slightly from the one in the poetry collection.



Text: P.K. Page
Duration c.10’
Instrumentation: contralto voice, bass clarinet, bassoon; 2 horns in F; percussion (bass drum, tam-tam, bells, glockenspiel. sizzle cymbal), timpani; piano; strings (min.0.0.6.6.4)
First performance: Centennial Hall, Winnipeg: Holly Cole, voice, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, conductor Bramwell Tovey

Note : Planet Earth (1998)

Planet Earth (1998)

Planet Earth was commissioned by the CBC for the Canadian jazz singer Holly Cole to perform at the 1999 Winnipeg New Music Festival. I had begun working with the Canadian poet PK Page and chose to set one of a series of poems, from a collection entitled Hologram, in which each poem uses the poetic form of the "glosa", an early Renaissance form first developed by poets of the Spanish court.

This technique involves writing a four verse poem, preceded by a four line poem by another poet which is quoted at the begining. Each 10 line verse ends (verse one, with line one, verse two with line two and so on) with one line from the quoted poem, the sixth and ninth lines rhyming with the borrowed line.

I followed the artifice of this device, but avoided quoting the original poem. However, I did write music which would eventually have words attached when the line duly arrived in the context of the poem itself.

The music is scored for contralto voice with small chamber orchestra: bass clarinet, bassoon; 2 horns; percussion (bass drum, tam-tam, bells, glockenspiel. sizzle cymbal), timpani; piano; strings (without violins).



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.