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A capella setting of Psalm 141 in English (St James Bible)

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Note : Psalm 141

Psalm 141


Commissioned by the American organisation Soli Dei Gloria for the Vale of Glamorgan Festival, May 2012. It was performed by the Danish choir Ars Nova.

A lauda for soprano, tenor, electcric guitar, viola, cello, double bass

Note : Lauda 42

Lauda 42

This was written for the May 2012 Vale of Glamorgan Festival and was first performed there. It is dedicated to the festival. It is one of the few laude that is both fast and loud. It takes its tempo ("tempo di Pinball Wizard"), and the opening heavy electric guitar attack, from The Who's Pinball Wizard. This idea comes from the existence of an email friendship between Gavin Bryars and The Who's Pete Townshend.

A piece for solo piano

Note : Dancing with Pannonica

Dancing with Pannonica

Thsi piece was written for the 70th birthday of Peter Hanser-Strecker, head of Schott Music. It is dedicated to him, and to the memory of Steve Lacy. The music relates to the solo piano music of Thelonious Monk for whom Pannonica, the nickname of the Englsih aristocrat Baroness Nica Rothschild. She was passionate about jazz and was Monk's patron for many years - Charlie Parker died in her New York apartment.

An installation and series of performances devised by the Quay Brothers for various locations in Leeds

Note : Overworlds and Underworlds

Overworlds and Underworlds

This installation, devised by the Quay Brothers involved several components. For "Overworlds" I wrote a number of songs for children's choir and percussion ensemble/recorders based on the music of Carl Orff, but with new poems by Blake Morrison. The songs were performed in a very beautiful Victoria archade in he centre of Leeds by the children's choir of Opera North, with the new songs being sung directly after the Orff song from which they derived.


Underworlds had a sound installatuon, designed by Mic Pool, which combined many recorded elements - rehearsal material from the children's songs, recordings of low brass, wind and percussion from the orchestra of Opera North, Leeds Parish Church bells, and many other sources. There were several hour-long pieces which were fed into various spaces in the arches below Leeds railways station. This is an area know as the Dark Arches, where the River Aire had been diverted from its course to allow the station to be built in the 19th century. The performance went on for several hours. Different dance ensembles created dances in these spaces, using the installation sound as a source.

The image shown here was created by sound designer Mic Pool and is one of the most stunning images from the whole event.



New piece for the Hilliard Ensemble and the strings of the Norwegian Chamnber Orchestra - performances December 10 and 11 2012, Oslo.

Note : The Voice of St Columba

The Voice of St Columba

Over the last few years I have written a number of works using texts and subject matter from old northern sources. These have included settings of 10th century Icelandic poetry (From Egil's Saga), traditional and saga texts in Faroese (Tróndur í Gøtu) and 7th century Irish voyager saints (St Brendan arrives at the Promised Land of the Saints). For this new work for the Hilliard Ensemble, with the strings of the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, I have set two very beautiful texts from St Columba, both of which deal with the power of the human voice. The first part "Colum's Voice" describes the extraordinary physical and magical power of his voice, and the second "On Hinba" its revelatory qualities. The idea of using texts that deal with the human voice was, of course, suggested in part by my association with the Hilliard Ensemble, with whom I first worked almost 25 years ago, but also because of my friendship with the Scandinavian Trio Mediaeval, one of whose members, the Swedish soprano Anna Maria Friman, sings with my ensemble and whose two other members are Norwegian. The piece is in two parts, following the texts, and each section has introductory material for the string orchestra. Although there is some divisi within the string writing, it is essentially quite simple in order not to take attention away from the clarity and directness of the texts.

The piece is dedicated to the Norwegian singer Torunn Østrem Ossun.


The Voice of Saint Columba


I Colum's Voice


The voice of the venerable man

when he sang in the church with his brothers

was heard half a mile away

and sometimes a mile away

And yet, strangely, when he spoke to those who stood with him in church

his voice was not uncommonly loud

and yet those who stood a mile away

could make out every word.

This miracle of the blessed man's voice

happened only rarely and could not have happened without the grace of the Divine Spirit.

It is told that once outside the fortress of a king

the saint began to celebrate with a few brothers and according to custom

the praises of God

Certain magicians came close to them

and tried to prevent the singing

lest the sound of divine praise be heard by heathen ears.

Understanding this, the saint began to sing: "We have heard with our ears, O God,

Our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old,

How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand..."

and in the same moment his voice was raised in the air

like a terrible peal of thunder

that the king and his people were filled with dread


II On Hinba


At another time when the holy man was on Hinba

the grace of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon him

abundantly and incomparably

and continued marvellously for the space of three days

so that for three days and as many nights

barred in a house filled with light

he allowed no one to go near him

and he neither ate nor drank

From the house beams of immeasurable brightness were seen in the night

escaping through chinks in the door-leaves and latches

And the watchers heard spiritual songs that were being sung

unknown to any.

He afterwards admitted to a few men

that he had seen, openly revealed

things that have been hidden since the beginning of the world

and that light was shone on the darkest places of the scriptures

and shown more clearly than the day to the eyes of his purest heart.


Trans. Brian Morton




Radio Play by Gavin Bryars and Blake Morrison, loosely based on the Jules Verne short story "Master Ray Sharp and Miss Me Flat", produced by Judith Kampfner

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Note : #1

The Radio Play

The original story Master Ray Sharp and Miss E Flat is set in the 19th century in a remote Swiss village but this new version is transposed to the present day, and to a location in a remote Scottish island. 

In Verne's Swiss village there is a church taht had an organist who was known far and wide. As the organist gets old and deaf he stops playing and the church organ falls silent. One day, organ music is heard from the church and it transpires that a mysterious Hungarian organist/composer has arrived in the village. We eventually learn that he wishes to develop a new organ registration, the "voix d'enfants". He visits the village school and explains to the assembled children that each child has his or her own note which is peculiar to them and when they sing that note, there is a special resonance in their bones. He gets the children to sing, and makes a note of which pitch is peculiar to them.

There are two children who appear to sing the same note - one boy sings D sharp, and a girl sings E flat. However, he explains, that while these notes appear to be the same, they are arrived at from different directions in the harmonic cycle of fifths. Instead of getting back to the original note when you go round the cycle, there is a slight difference so that E flat and D sharp are not quite the same  - the difference is the "Pythagorean comma"...

The radio play reworks the story and includes music for organ and for children's choir. The music was recorded at Oakham School with the Jerwoods Choir, conducted by Peter Davis, with organist Thomas Chatterton