2001

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Duration: c. 12’
Dedication: Ensemble Tozai
Instrumentation: shakuhachi, violin, piano, Japanese untuned percussion
First performance: Ensemble Tozai, The Royal Pavilion, Brighton May 17th 2001

Note : Fax to Chris Hinkins (cc. Rachel Oakley/ Rosie Lindsell)

Fax to Chris Hinkins (cc. Rachel Oakley/ Rosie Lindsell)

April 19th 2001

Dear Chris

re. Toru's Mist

I need to add a couple of lines to the instructions for instrumentalists and I guess it would be best to put it on the page with the percussion instructions rather than on the prelims page (which Rachel will do).

If the text for the percussion part is tightened up on to three lines and the layout diagram is done slightly smaller maybe it could all fit? I realise however that the percussion layout would also need to be in the part as well as the score.

shakuhachi: although the part is written in a quite simple way, there are some indications of ornamentation and vibrato in the part, and the player is encouraged to extend this freely within the context of the overall musical texture.

piano: notes in the bass written as harmonics - diamond-shaped note heads - are to be depressed silently and held down, initially by the hand, though weights or matchsticks may be more effective. 

Is this OK? I know you're away until Monday of course.

All the best

Gavin

Note : Toru's Mist (2001)

Toru's Mist (2001)

for shakuhachi, violin, piano and Japanese percussion

This piece was written for the Ensemble Tozai for a series of performances starting in May 2001. The combination of performers - two playing western instruments, two playing Japanese - gives a unique flavour to the instrumentation, and is the source of many of the musical ideas within the piece. It represents a kind of memorial to Toru Takemitsu, whom I met for the first time in Tokyo in the mid-1980's, and whose ability to reconcile (so-called) Eastern and Western sensibilities produced a subtle and moving synthesis. For my part, I have had a long and sustained interest in Japanese culture: I was active in judo as a teenager (taking a greater interest in the aesthetic formal structures than fighting); I attended classes of the late Christmas Humphries at the Buddhist Society in London and, following my time as a philosophy student, find Zen Buddhism to be the most coherent form of religion; I studied Japanese written language (as a hobby) for three years in the early 70's; and the performances of Gagaku which I saw at the Albert Hall in 1969 struck me forcibly as being as close to ensemble perfection as it is possible to be.

In bringing these four instruments together as an ensemble, I sought to form some kind of hybrid - rather than fusion - from the individual elements. The "western" piano and "eastern" percussion form a single sound world at times concentrating a great deal on resonance, while the shakuhachi and violin adapt to western norms, for example in a series of quasi-baroque suspensions. The percussion instruments, almost entirely untuned, or rather with unspecified pitch, are those which form part of Joji Hirota's multi-percussion set-up.

The piano is also used in such a way as to generate selected overtones which accord with the tuning of the shakuhachi. Given that the shakuhachi is essentially a pentatonic instrument, from a given pitch (here D) I concentrate on those 'open' notes which form the essence of its normal tone production, although the context is far from modal. The chromatic world in which it finds itself in this piece is often at odds with the instrument's modal character but constantly seeks to find an accommodation. The instrument can, of course, be completely chromatic but I use this element sparingly, either by implication or through inflection.

The title refers both to the sense of atmosphere and veiled recollection in Takemitsu's music, but also to the climactic conditions in the Western Isles which produce the single malts that he and I enjoyed together.

Gavin Bryars

 



Opera in 2 Acts, with Prologue and Epilogue
Libretto: Blake Morrison
Duration c. 2hours 30’
Dedication: Sandy Brown
16 soloists (2 sopranos, 2 mezzo sopranos, counter tenor, 2 tenors, 4 baritones, 3 bass baritones, 2 basses. 4 of these parts may be taken by choral soloist)
Chorus (S.A.T.Bar.B.)
Orchestra
2 flutes (both doubling piccolo); 3 cor anglais (1 doubling oboe, 1 doubling oboe d’amore)
1 clarinet (doubling E flat); bass clarinet; 2 bassoons; contrabassoon
5 horns (four doubling Wagner tubas)
2 trombones (both doubling alto); bass trombone; tuba
timpani; percussion (2 players)
harp; celeste/ harpsichord (one player)
strings (14.11.8.7.5)
First performance: Staats Theater Mainz, February 23rd 2002, designer Rosalie, Director Georges Delnon, conductor Gernot Sahler



Duration c. 7’
Dedication: St John the Baptist Church Billesdon
Instrumentation: solo organ
First performance: Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, St. John the Baptist Church, Billesdon, July 12th 2001



Duration c. 5’
Dedication: Margaret Mills and Mashka Tchernakova
Instrumentation: cello and piano (commissioned for ABRSM “Spectrum” series)
First performance: Margaret Mills, cello, Gavin Bryars, piano, Coplow Centre Billesdon, December 29th 2001

Note : With Miriam by the river (2001)

With Miriam by the river (2001)

for cello and piano

This short piece was commissioned by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) for inclusion in its "Spectrum 4" volume of contemporary pieces for cello and piano. As a consequence both cello and piano parts are relatively easy to play. The title, and the slightly nostalgic mood, refers to my mother, Miriam, whose house overlooked the River Ouse in Yorkshire, and to those occasions when I would accompany her towards the end of her daily practice time.

The dedication is to my step-daughter (Mashka Tchernakova) and a friend in Billesdon (Margaret Mills), who meet regularly to play together in a similiar spirit and who first met when performing in the Millennium Music project ("Creation Hymn" 1999).



Duration c. 40’
Instrumentation: bass clarinet, electric guitar, viola, double bass
Music for Radio programme with John Berger and John Christie
First performance: Between the Ears series, Radio 3, January 19th 2002

Note : "I send you this Cadmium Red"

"I send you this Cadmium Red"

This is a radio piece, produced by the independent company Somethin' Else for BBC Radio 3. It uses the book reproducing the correspondence between John Berger and John Christie which began when John Christie sent John Berger a single colour (Cadmium Red) and the correspondence developed from there in an increasingly elaborate way. The radio piece does this as an extended conversation to which I have written accompaniments, almost like a third voice, focusing on themes within their conversation. John Berger and I had met several times through my work with Juan Muñoz and I met John Christie for the first time when he attended the recording session in London.

The music is scored for bass clarinet/ clarinet (Roger Heaton), electric guitar (James Woodrow), viola (Bill Hawkes) and bass (myself) and the programme was broadcast in January 2002.

 



For soprano, tenor and tape
Text: Petrarch
Duration: 7’
Dedication: Anna Maria Friman and John Potter
First Performance: Tape recorded at York University December 2nd 2001, Anna Maria Friman, soprano, John Potter, tenor. For broadcast on CBC Radio 1, December 12th 2001

Note : Marconi's Madrigal ("Se 'l sasso ond' è più chiusa questa valle") (2001)

Marconi's Madrigal ("Se 'l sasso ond' è più chiusa questa valle") (2001)

for soprano and tenor voices with pre-recorded tape

(also for vocal sextet: 3 sopranos, 3 tenors, plus small percussion)

I was commissioned by Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) to write a short piece for radio broadcast as part of the celebration of the centenary of Marconi's first successful transmission of a wireless signal, from Poldhu (Cornwall) to Signal Hill (St. Johns, Newfoundland), on December 12th 1901. I took as a starting point a number of facts about the occasion, as well as knowledge that I had of Marconi through research for an old piece of mine The Sinking of the Titanic. The tragedy of the Titanic was, after all, the first occasion that wireless signals had been used in ocean rescue, and was instrumental in saving many lives. Some survivors were so grateful to him that they expressed the wish, through a collective effort of will, to "Marconi" their gratitude to him.

What Marconi transmitted in 1901 - or rather what was transmitted to him as he was in Canada - was the letter "S" in morse: three short dots. I speculated why he should have chosen "S", apart from the obvious, and true, fact that this would be instantly recognised and not confused with irregular rhythms or static. As I was working concurrently on a second book of madrigals, this time setting sonnets by Petrarch, I thought that Marconi could well be trying to begin one of these sonnets, and there are 40 which begin with the letter S. So the piece begins with the first words of each of these in turn, sung on an E flat ("S" in German), until a sonnet appears which has some connection with the physical situation in which the two groups of people found themselves. I added a distant wind sound in the background as a reasonably strong wind was needed to elevate the kites which were used as aerials.

At the point that the correct sonnet is found, the fourteenth which starts with S, this is then sung as a complete setting, though with a vocal drone E flat sung beneath throughout. The words which are used for this extended drone are taken, in Latin, from Matthew 5, verses 3, 4 and 9 in the Vulgate (3, 5 and 9 in the English) at the beginning of what is called "The Sermon on the Mount". At the end of his life Marconi had become convinced that sounds never die, they simply become weaker and weaker. He was trying, by developing more sophisticated listening devices, to capture past sounds and he wanted, ultimately, to hear Christ delivering this Sermon.

Each time that a word in the madrigal begins with the letter S, the appropriate morse signal is heard faintly, as if all the omitted letters were part of some giant cosmic crossword puzzle. At the end of the piece, as the two solo voices approach the expected final cadence in E flat (moving towards B flat an octave apart, against the held E flat) the drone shifts to an F, effectively giving a plagal ("amen") cadence, albeit an extremely long one...

The radio version was recorded in England at the University of York, sung by soprano Anna Maria Friman and tenor John Potter, who are the dedicatees. A separate version has been made for live performance, for the Trio Mediaeval Sextet, 3 sopranos and 3 tenors, for whom I have written the Second Book of Madrigals. There the drone is taken by the four other voices.

Gavin Bryars

 

Note : Text of Marconi's Madrigal ("Se 'l sasso ond' è più chiusa questa valle")

Text of Marconi's Madrigal ("Se 'l sasso ond' è più chiusa questa valle")

Se 'l sasso ond' è più chiusa questa valle

(di che 'l suo proprio nome si deriva)

tenesse vòlto per natura schiva

a Roma il viso et a Babel le spalle,

 

I miei sospiri più benigno calle

avrian per gire ove lor spene è viva:

or vanno sparsi, et pur ciascuno arriva

là dov' io il mando, chè sol un non falle;

 

et son di là sì dolcemente accolti,

com' io m'accorgo, che nessun mai torna,

con tal diletto in quelle parti stanno.

 

De gli occhi è 'l duol, che tosto che s'aggiorna

per gran desio d' be' luoghi a lor tolti

dànno a me pianto et a' pie' lassi affanno.

 

Translation:

If the rock that mainly closes this valley, from which its name is derived, had - scornful by nature - its back turned towards Babel and its face towards Rome,

my sighs would have a kinder path to go towards where their hope still lives; now they go scattered, but still each one arrives where I send him, for not one fails;

and over there they are so sweetly welcomed, as I see, that none of them ever comes back, with such delight they stay in those parts.

It is my eyes that are pained; who, as soon as it dawns, in their great desire for the places they are deprived of, give to me weeping, and to my tired feet, labour.

(Drone text: "Beati pauperi spiritu. Beati mites. Beati pacifici.")

(Drone translation: "Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the peacemakers.")