1999

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Duration: c. 5’
Dedication: my mother
Instrumentation: organ solo
First performance: St Johns Church, Goole January 8th 1999 (mother’s funeral)



Duration: 45’
Instrumentation: violin, cello, electric guitar, double bass, electric keyboard, pre-recorded tape
First Performance: Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley California April 23rd 1999

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Note : Biped (1999)

Biped (1999)

Biped was commissioned by the Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation for the dance by Merce Cunningham. It is one of the first new musical compositions commissioned by them since the death of John Cage in 1992. Like all of Merce's work it involved a collaboration with visual artists, in this case Paul Keiser and Shelley Eshkar who had developed a very striking technique of video motion capture. In working on the music Merce and I agreed that we would follow the method established between himself and John Cage of working independently but towards a common goal, thereby avoiding any planned one-to-one relationship between music, dance and decor, but working to the same overall programme length, here 45 minutes.

Merce and I did exchange faxes to give each of us pointers as to the other's thinking, and I did see examples of the animation techniques which were to form the work's design. When I asked if he had ever spoken with John Cage in advance about the work's structure and form (how many sections, whether dancers formed duos, trios, quartets ensembles and so on) he said that he always did,, but equally that John always ignored the information..

I had worked with John in the late 1960's and his work had been a key factor in my decision to move away from improvised music towards composition. Indeed, seeing the Cunningham company in London in 1966 represented a key moment in my artistic development. The very first piece I saw was a solo called Nocturne, danced by Merce, designed by Robert Rauschenberg and with Satie's five Nocturnes for solo piano played by John Cage. Merce wore a white costume, there was a white gauze behind which he danced, and pure bright while light on the gauze, behind it and in front of it, produced a stunning effect.

In Biped, just as, with the visual element, there is live dance and its digital 'shadow' through the projected video animation (curiously, like the very first piece I saw, projected on to a front gauze) so I chose to have a form of digital replication within the music. The live instruments (electric guitar, cello, electric keyboard, acoustic double , violin and percussion) being reinforced by their electronic equivalents. The sampled material is played by members of my ensemble, who are also the live performers whenever possible, with the addition of Takehisa Kosugi, the Cunningham company's music director since Cage's death, on violin and improvised percussion. The music falls into six (unequal) sections and is played without a break.



Duration c. 7’
Dedication: in memory of Adelaide Hall
Instrumentation: solo soprano voice; alto sax I, alto sax II (clar.), tenor sax I (clar.), tenor sax II (clar.), baritone sax; 4 French horns; flugelhorn,3 trumpets; 3 trombones, bass trombone; piano, bass, drums
First Performance: London Sinfonietta Big Band, Duke Ellington Memorial Concert, Queen Elziabeth Hall London, May 1st 1999

Note : When Harry Met Addie (1999)

When Harry Met Addie (1999)

for off-stage mezzo soprano and big band

The title of this piece contains two specific references: one to the singer Adelaide Hall and the other to baritone saxophonist Harry Carney.

I worked with Adelaide Hall on one memorable occasion in the Leicester Haymarket Studio Theatre in the late 1980's playing bass, arranging the music and directing a medium sized band composed of my students, some jazz colleagues from Leicester and featuring pianist Mick Pyne. Adelaide and I became good friends and I would visit her at her home in London whenever I could. She had, of course, been Duke Ellington's singer from 1927 onwards and was, in all probability, the first jazz singer to use 'scat' vocalisation, most famously in Creole Love Call. The legend is that Ellington was playing the piece through when Adelaide, in her dressing room, improvised a vocal line answering the theme played by a trio of clarinets. Whether this is true or not Ellington did incorporate this effect into the piece itself.

As my piece was commissioned for a concert curated by the baritone saxophonist/ bass clarinettist John Surman I thought to include also a reference to Harry Carney, Ellington's long serving (and long-suffering) baritone saxophonist whom I had seen perform with the Ellington band at Sheffield City Hall in the 1960's. There are brief quotations from Creole Love Call itself and the piece gradually becomes a (fully-notated) duet for the singer and the baritone which eventually merges into an improvised solo for alto saxophone. The voice and baritone are reunited in the closing bars.

When Harry Met Addie is dedicated to the memory of Adelaide Hall.

Gavin Bryars



Duration: c.30’
Instrumentation: bass clarinet, piano, 2 violas, cello, bass, percussion (one player: bells, vibraphone, tam-tam, bass drum)
First Performance: Alix Goolden Hall, Victoria Conservatory, Victoria BC, Canada June 19th 1999

Note : Unless The Eye Catch Fire (1999) (World premiere)

Unless The Eye Catch Fire (1999) (World premiere)

For 2 violas, cello, bass, piano, bass clarinet, percussion

I was very struck by the material sent to me last summer by film director Anna Tchernakova relating to her film based on the short story by P.K.Page. I read the story, I saw some early footage, I became acquainted with other work by P.K. and by Anna and I was very happy to make what is my first serious foray into writing music for a film. Music is central to the film, indeed the film itself will open and close with images from this concert performance. We agreed that the music should have an autonomous existence as chamber music and should not be merely a sequence of musical cues. It does, of course, endeavour to be at one with the poignancy of the text and the eloquence of its filmed realisation and ultimately forms part of an overall sound design.

The music is in 6 parts each having a relationship - sometimes clear sometimes oblique - to a simple chorale which appears in different guises. The first part is a short and simple statement of this chorale. Some sections begin with a statement of this material but then lead to different developments from it. In two sections (sections 2 and 4) the theme is not stated but rather covered by its development. The last variation, which features the unison double bass and bass clarinet, ends with a brief coda, reminiscent of a pipe lament. The instrumentation is close to that of my own ensemble which tends to feature the darker, richer sonorities of the lower strings, supported by the bass clarinet, allied to the brighter sounds of keyboard and tuned percussion. This instrumental balance and contrast - between darkness and light, richness and austerity - is intended to be at one with both text and film.

The six parts of Unless The Eye Catch Fire are as follows:

I Chorale

II Variation 1 - covered

III Variation 2 - major/minor

IV intermezzo

V Variation 3 - waltz

VI Variation 4 - minor/major

 

 



Duration: c. 14’
Dedication: my wife Anya
Instrumentation: 21 solo strings (11 violins, 4 violas, 4 celli, 2 basses)
First Performance: Primavera Orchestra, directed by Paul Manley, Canterbury December 1st 1999



Duration: c.18’
Dedication: to Billesdon
Instrumentation: Chorus (SATB) 2 flutes, oboe, clarinet, alto saxophone (2 players), 2 trombones (3 players), 2 electric guitars (3 players), handbells (5 players), 3 electric keyboards (optional shakers), drum kit, violin, 2 celli (4 players), bass
First Performance: Billesdon Millennium Music, The Coplow Centre Billesdon, December 31st 1999

Note : Creation Hymn

Creation Hymn

dedicated to Billesdon

I was approached last year by Fiona White to see if I would be prepared to write a piece of music involving people from Billesdon, as a millennium project to be played on New Year's Eve 1999. We held a meeting in November 1998 in order to gauge the level of interest and to find out what kind of musical resources we might have. I explained something of my approach in composing and devised a simple questionnaire for the possible participants. From this I was able to discover the types of instruments and voices available to me, as well as the experience and musical abilities of the performers. This was ranged from those who had little or no experience on the one hand, to those who had a serious professional background. In between were those with a love of music but who had found little opportunity for collective music making for many years - in many cases since school days! There were some considerable surprises: I had not, for example, thought that a village the size of Billesdon would have four cellos and 3 trombones concealed within the community. The presence of a set of handbells too was a challenge, especially when it transpired that they were pitched a semitone lower than notated (I had to fax a new part from Canada).

The actual writing of the piece was delayed considerably because of substantial and unexpected changes in my professional and domestic lives but the music was eventually put in front of the ensemble about a month ago. I was very fortunate that my music publisher, Schott, was prepared to produce a printed score and sets of parts as a gesture of sponsorship. There was a good deal of private practice, sectional rehearsals and I was pleased that the church choir managed to find some time to look at the music during their regular weekly choir practice. During my absence my old friend and colleague Dave Smith directed rehearsals and got the music into some sort of shape. Indeed when I returned he had become so involved in the project that we decided he should conduct the piece in performance, and so I wrote myself a bass part in order to be in the piece too.

The question of text for the choir was something that I thought about at great length. Eventually I chose the Creation Hymn by the 7th century poet Caedmon, a beautiful poem which is the oldest piece of written poetry that we have in England. I had set it before, very differently, but felt that the simple sincerity of its celebration of life was an appropriate sentiment for the occasion. In addition the fact that it could, in theory, have been used for a first millennium piece made in even more attractive - I speculated that perhaps on December 31st 999 something like this might have happened before.....  The poem is set twice, the first in a Latin paraphrase by the church historian Bede, also from the seventh century and the second in the original language.

The music falls into five sections, which are played without a break.

Section One begins with a kind of prologue in which three different instrumental groups from within the full ensemble are given there own material.

In Section Two the full ensemble is put together and this leads into a four-part chorus singing, in Latin, Caedmon's Creation Hymn.

Section Three is more energetic for the full instrumental group, accompanied by drum kit.

In the Fourth Section the chorus sing the Creation Hymn again, but this time in the original 7th century Northumbrian.

Section Five is a short, quiet coda, in which music from the prologue reappears to close the piece.

The commitment and team spirit of the whole group has been extraordinary and it has been a remarkable experience to work with them. Any good things that the performance contains are down to them. Any mistakes are mine

Gavin Bryars

Note : Texts of Creation Hymn

Texts of Creation Hymn

Nunc laudare debemus auctorem regni caelestis, potentiam Creatoris et consilium illius, facta Patris gloriae. Quomodo ille, cum sit aeternus Deus, omnium miraculorum auctor extitit, qui primo filiis hominum caelum pro culmine tecti, dehinc terram custos humani generis omnipotens creavit. 

Nu scylun hergan       hefaenricaes uard,

metudaes mecti      end his mogdedanc,

uerc wuldurfadur    sue he wundra gihwaes,

eci dryctin,     or astelidae;

he aerist scop     aelda barnum

heben til hrofe,    haleg scepen,

tha middungeard     moncynnaes uard;

eci dryctin      aefter tiadae

firum foldu    frea allmectig.

Translation of the Anglo-Saxon (the Latin is broadly the same):

Now let us praise the keeper of the kingdom of heaven, the might of God and the wisdom of his spirit, the work of the world-warden, in that he, the eternal Lord, ordained the beginning of everything that is wonderful. He, the holy Creator, first created

heaven as  a roof for the children of men; afterwards the keeper of mankind, the eternal Lord, almighty Governor, fashioned the world, the middle earth, for mortals.