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Ballet with choreography by Edouard Lock. Music, after Purcell and Gluck, for four players:saxophone (soprano, alto, tenor or baritone), viola, cello, piano

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Note : Gavin's notes

Gavin's notes

This new work (as yet untitled) with Edouard Lock involves a reworking of music from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, just as our previous collaboration, Amjad, took the Romantic ballet - Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty as its source.  As with Amjad, Edouard selected many extracts from the two operas for me to recompose. Many of these were very short - sometimes only forty seconds or so - and had to be extended into longer compositions, unlike with Amjad where most pieces were about the same length as music in the original Tchaikovsky ballets. In addition, unlike with Tchaikovsky, a great deal of this music would be unfamiliar to the majority of ballet audiences and so I tended to stay closer to the originals. I wrote over 30 pieces and almost all of them appear in the ballet. The process of writing this music was immensely pleasurable since, as with Tchaikovsky, I learned a great deal more about the source music and its compositional ethos and craft. Some may be surprised at how much of the music for the ballet is actually very fast!!


For four voices (SATB) and four instruments (electric guitar, viola, cello, bass)



Note : Lauda 40

Lauda 40

Lauda 40 was written for my daughter Orlanda's vocal group Sonant Ensemble and my own ensemble. The premiere was at Will Alsop's space Testbed 1.  



Lauda 40 "Madonna Santa Maria"


Madonna santa Maria,

mercè de noi peccatori;

faite prego al dolce Cristo

ke ne degia perdonata.


Madonna Santa Maria

che n'ài mostrata la via,

ore scacia ogne resia,

receve ki vol tornare.


Misericordia, patre Dio,

de tutto'l peccato meo:

e' so' quell malvasio reo

ke sempre volsi mal fare.


O tampinella e folle gente,

tornate a Dio onnipotente,

ke ne fece de niente

ed a lui dovem tornare.


Iesu Cristo, manda pace;

scàmpane da la fornace

la qual gemai altro non face

che i peccatori atormentare.























Mary, holy Madonna,

have pity on us sinners;

make your prayer to sweet Christ

that he deigns to pardon us.


Mary, holy Madonna,

you who have shown us the way,

now drive out all earthly kingdoms,

and receive him who would return to you.


Have mercy, Father God,

on all my sin:

I am that wicked evildoer

who always wants to do wrong.


O mindlessly mimicking, foolish people,

turn to almighty God

who created you from nothing:

it is right for us to return to him.


Jesus Christ, send us peace;

save us from the furnace

which only exists

to torment sinners

Settings of four poems by Laura Battiferri, written for Singer Pur and commissioned by Villa I Tatti  



Note : Four Battiferri Madrigals

Four Battiferri Madrigals

These madrigals setting texts by Laura Battiferi come about from my third project with Villa I Tatti.  The first was a commission from the Morrill Music Library, in memory of Elizabeth and Gordon Morrill in 2004. For this I set a sestina by Petrarca that was performed by the Italian group, Vox Altera, along with a group of other madrigals for six voices that I had written earlier that also set Petrarca. Although new compositions, these works reflect the spirit and aesthetic of the 16th century Renaissance madrigal.


I had first became engaged with the idea of writing music in relation to models from early music when I wrote my first piece for the Hilliard Ensemble in 1988 but it was ten years later that I embarked on a series of books of madrigals. For the first of these books, thirteen madrigals for three, four and five male voices (the Hilliard Ensemble), I set commissioned poems by my friend (and librettist for my second and third operas) Blake Morrison. For these, unusually, I had new poems which were actually designed at the outset to be set to music as madrigals. Having written these, however, and following guidance from the tenor John Potter, for subsequent books I decided to set poets whose work had been used by Renaissance madrigalists and for my second, third and fourth books of madrigals I turned to Petrarch. And, indeed, having started on Petrarch I have stayed with him for a considerable period of time. While the second book, for six voices, sets fourteen sonnets from Petrarch's Rime Sparse, the fourth book, for eight voices, uses the longer sestina form, from the same collection - and the first of these settings "A qualunque animale" was the piece commissioned by Villa I Tatti.


The second project involved my setting 16th century texts, by Bronzino and Battiferri, as well as two by Petrarca. Although, like my second book,  these are for six voices, the formation of the group Singer Pur is very different, comprising soprano, three tenors, baritone and bass (as distinct from the 2 sopranos, mezzo, 2 tenors and baritone for the earlier madrigals). These were written in memory of  Craig Hugh Smyth, a fine art historian and former director of the Villa I Tatti, who was a specialist in Bronzino and Pontormo and the choice of texts reflects the interests of the dedicatee. Through correspondence with Kathryn Bosi, Music Librarian at I Tatti and, through her, Craig Smyth's family, I became increasingly aware of his unusual and quite special character.The Bronzino sonnet is a lament on the death of Pontormo, his teacher, and Laura Battiferri's poem is a direct response to that of Bronzino. As I was also asked to set sonnets by Petrarca, I chose two of his closely linked sonnets, numbers 229 and 230 in the Rime Sparse. Having written the Petrarca setting for I Tatti some five years before, I was familiar with the context. Petrach's sonnets attracted me for many reasons. Initially it was because they have such prominence in sixteenth century madrigal music. But it was also the heart-rending beauty of the poetry and its sheer technical brilliance.  Although I was vaguely aware of Bronzino as a painter, I did not know his poetry and I was grateful for the opportunity to look at previously unfamiliar texts, both of Bronzino and of Battiferri. Indeed having such things brought to my attention made me feel a surrogate part of the Villa I Tatti environment., I always felt during the time that I taught in a university that being alerted to previously unfamiliar work - and following up that prompting - to be one of the chief pleasures of being in an academic community.


The third project concentrates on the poetry of Laura Batiferri alone, and comes about because of the anniversary celebrations for her husband Ammannati. Kathryn Vosi sent me a number of texts and eventually I settled on four : three sonnets, one of which has 11 lines rather than the normal 14, and a sestina. From the poems that she sent there are two further ones that I plan to set so that, in due course, there would be quite substabntial volme of I Tatti madrigals that could form an entire book in themselves, combining Petrarca, Bronzino and Battiferri. These two "bonus" pieces will set a poem by Bronzino plus Battiferri's response, like those from the second concert. As with the commission two years ago, these madrigals are for Singer Pur, and there is the advantage this time of having worked with them directly at I Tatti, of spending time with them socially and having a greater awareness of the character of this quite special ensemble. The two 14-line sonnets, numbers 53 ("Fra queste piagge") and 54 ("Ergiti enfin"), have a link to the area near I Tatti, with their references to Maiano, and to the Mensola, and the shorter sonnet 55 ("Temprato aer sereno") also sings the praises of Tuscany.

With the sestina number 48 "Qual per l'onde turbate" we have the same kind of poetic virtuosity demanded of the 39-line form that I enjoyed with Petrarca's "A qualunque animale". This form has six 6-line verses with a final 3-line verse), with the same six words at the ends of the lines in each verse, but in each succeeding verse on a different line. For the final three lines all six rhyming words are brought back, three of them as half rhymes. As with my seting of the Petrarca sestina, I followed this device by devising precise musical equivalents. With Petrarca this involved having  different cadential phrases associated with each of the six words, and finding ways to join them that don't point to the apparent artifice. With the Battiferri setting, I followed the same structural idea, but becoming more flexible by injecting greater variation in these phrases as the poem progresses.


It was the promptings of I Tatti that started me off on my settings of Petrach's sestine, through Kathryn Bosi and others, and which pointed me towards the poetry of Bronzino and Battiferri. I enjoy the intellectual give-and-take, and being encouraged to follow these promptings. After my second project at I Tatti for example, Dr Janie Cole, whom I met at the concert, sent me her book on the work of Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane and it is very likely that I will set some of this poetry in the future. As a professional composer, I live from commissions and these can take me in many different and sometimes unpredictable directions and I welcome the stimulus of such exchanges. In an ideal world, when I would be free to write whatever I want, I would always chose to write vocal music, and having the pprotunity to set Petrarch and post-Petrarchian seicento poetry, is close to Paradise.



Gavin Bryars, Billesdon October 2011




Lauda for soprano, tenor, electric guitar, viola, cello, bass for festival in Normandy

Note : Lauda 41

Lauda 41

This was written for a festival in the very beautiful Abbaye du Bec Hellouin, Normandy. It was the first time that a soprano other tha Anna Friman sang the premiere of one of these pieces. She was unavailable and Peyee Chen replaced her. The venue was quite extraordinary with a wonderful resonance.

Lauda 41 "De la crudel morte de Cristo"


De la crudel morte de Cristo

on' hom pianga amaramente.


Quando Iuderi Cristo pilliâro,

d'ogne parte circundâro;

le sue mane strecto legâro

come ladro villanamente.


De la crudel morte de Cristo

on' hom pianga amaramente.


Trenta denar fo lo mercato

ke fece Juda, et fo pagato.

Mellio li fôra non esser nato

k'aver peccato sì duramente.


De la crudel morte de Cristo

on' hom pianga amaramente.


Molt'era trista sancta Maria,

quando 'l suo figlio en dea;

cum gran dolore forte piangeva

dicendo: "Trista, lassa, dolente."


De la crudel morte de Cristo

on' hom pianga amaramente.


A la colonna fo spoliato

per tutto 'l corpo flagellato,

l'ogne parte fo 'nsanguinato

commo falso amaramente.


De la crudel morte de Cristo

on' hom pianga amaramente.


Nel suo vulto li sputâro,

e la sua barba sì la pelâro;

facendo beffe, l'imputâro

ke Dio s'è falsamente.


De la crudel morte de Cristo

on' hom pianga amaramente.



For the cruel death of Christ

let every man weep bitterly.

When the Jews seized Christ

they surrounded him on every side;

they tied his hands tightly,

insulting him like a thief.

For the cruel death of Christ

let every man weep bitterly.

Thirty silver pieces was the price

which Judas demanded, and was paid.

It would have been better for him if he had never been born, than to have sinned so grievously.

For the cruel death of Christ

let every man weep bitterly.

Holy Mary was distraught

when she gave up her son;

she wept inconsolably with great sorrow

saying, "I am sad, miserable, sorrowful."

For the cruel death of Christ

let every man weep bitterly.

At the cross he was stripped bare,

whipped over all his body,

bled dry in every limb

bitterly as if he were a traitor.

For the cruel death of Christ

let every man weep bitterly.

They spat in his face,

and plucked out his beard;

they scoffed at him and accused him

of falsely claiming to be God.

For the cruel death of Christ

let every man weep bitterly.

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






Eleven madrigals for STTTBarB, setting Petrarch, Bronzino, Battiferri and Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane.

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Note : Fifth Book of Madrigals ("I Tatti")

Fifth Book of Madrigals ("I Tatti")

The Harvard University Centre for Italian Renaissance Studies - the Villa I Tatti near Florence - has commissioned a number of madrigals from me over the last nine years. The moving spirit behind all these commissions has been the centre's remarkable music librarian, Kathryn Bosi. The first was for the Italian group Vox Altera, who recorded this 8-part madrigal along with the whole of my Second Book (BCGBCD17). Since then I have written eight 6-part madrigals for the German group Singer Pur: four in 2009 and four in 2011. In order to have a complete book three more madrigals have been added to make a book of eleven madrigals The full list is:

(2009: 6-part, STTTBarB - In Memoriam Craig Hugh Smyth)

Cantai, or piango (Petrarch r.s. 229)

I' piansi, or canto (Petrarch r.s. 230)

L'Aura vostr'alma (Bronzino)

Bronzino in ciel l'alma beata luce (Battiferri)

(2011; 6-part - for the 500th anniversary of the birth of the architect Ammannati, husband of the poet Laura Battiferri)

Qual per l'onde turbate (Battiferri)

Fra questa piagge (Battiferri)

Ergitti infin (Battiferri)

Temprato aer sereno (Battiferri)

2013; 6-part, STTTBarB - these continue the pairing of Bronzino and Battiferri, with the addition of a poem by Michaelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane whose setting by Caccini is lost, suggested to me by the scholar and musicologist Janie Cole, who I met through Kathryn Bosi at I Tatti.

Mentre sepolto (Bronzino)

Se fermo e nel destin (Battiferri)

Chi punto ha 'l core (Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane)






A work in lauda form for electric guitar, cello and bass clarinet.

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Note : Lauda Rubata a Tre

Lauda Rubata a Tre

Commissioned by the York Late Music Festival this piece draws on the fact that three of Gavin Bryars' musicians, who have played with him in various ensemble configurations over the years, were performing together in the rest of the programme, though he had never previously written for these three players as a self-contained unit. The dedications help clarify the musical imagery.

One part of the dedication is "In Memoriam Chico Hamilton". Chico Hamilton led a number of interesting and innovative quintets/sextets in the 1950s, having been the drummer in the original Gerry Mulligan quartet, and in the film Jazz on a Summer's Day (Newport Jazz Festival 1958) there is a lovely drum solo in which he just uses mallets.

His own groups employed imaginative and unusual combinations of instruments, and in the late 1950s he led a group that included electric guitar, cello and the bass clarinetist Eric Dolphy (though generally playing flute at that time) - and this trio is what we have here. The guitarist was Dennis Budimir (later replaced by Jim Hall) and the cellist Fred Katz (almost certainly the only jazz jazz cellist of the period who, unlike Red Mitchell or Oscar Pettiford, had not stepped down/up from the double bass).

Chico Hamilton died quite recently, within a few weeks of Jim Hall and Fred Katz... Dolphy, of course, died in the 1960s.

The other dedication is to my friend and former student Craig Vear, who had a work in the same concert. I first met Craig I interviewed and auditioned him as a drummer. In the absence of any drum kit in the vicinity, I had him play rudiments on my metal brief case - which would not have been so severely damaged had he, like Chico Hamilton, used mallets...



Full length ballet, choreography by Carolyn Carlson, for orchestra with interludes by Philip Jeck (improvised electronics)

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Note : Pneuma


Pneuma is a full length ballet, around 80 minutes, which falls into 8 sections. Carolyn Carlson breaks the work into eight sections with each section taking its title from the work of Gaston Bachelard Airs and Dreams. It was commissioned  byt eh National Ballet of Bordeaux and was premiered there on March 17 2014


Work for unaccompanied solo bass voice

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Note : Gallus et Agnus (After Demantius)

Gallus et Agnus (After Demantius)

The piece was written for Clive Birch, bass in the Australian vocal ensemble The Song Company, at the suggestion of the group's director Roland Peelman. It was to be placed in the short break between Demantius' St John Passion and David Lang's The Little Match Girl, during which the group had three minutes to get into costume. As there is no part for bass voice in the second work, this short piece formed a kind of bridge. The first text (Gallus) takes the passage of Peter's three denials of Christ linked to the cock crowing, which is abbreviated in the Demantius setting, while the second (Agnus) sets Jesus' reinstatement of Peter after the Resurrection through his three-fold injunction to "feed my lambs".

As Clive Birch was retiring from the group after this performance, it formed a kind of retirement gift.



Setting of sonnets from Petrarch's Rime Sparse for 6-part a capella voices SSATBarB.

Note : Sixth Book of Madrigals

Sixth Book of Madrigals

The first five of these Petrarch settings were commissioned by The Song Company and the Adelaide International Festival for performance during the time of Gavin's residency as part of the festival in March 2015. Gavin had enjoyed working with the group two years earlier in Canberra and took the opportunity to work with them again - performing these new pieces as well as existing madrigals and laude.

Five further madrigals are planned to complete the book. The full set of ten poems (of which the first five were performed in Adelaide) are the following:

1. 1. "Voi ch'ascoltate in rime sparse"

2. 2 "Per fare una leggiadra sua vendetta"

3. 3 "Era il giorno ch'al sol si scoloraro"

4. 17 "Piovonmi amare lagrime dal viso"

5. 18 "Quand' io son tutto volto in quella parte"

6. 246 "L'aura che 'l verde lauro et l'aureo crine"

7. 249 "Qhal paura ò quando mi torna a mente"

8. 251 "O m isera et orribil visione!"

9. 255 La sera desiare, odiar l'aurora"

10. 259 "Cercato ò sempre solitaria vita" 



A setting of extracts from Psalm 69 for choir (the Swedish Radio Choir) and a group of early music instruments (Serikon): cornetto, mute cornetto, baroque trombone, dulcian; three baroque violas, lirone; organ, electric guitar, theorbo.

Note : De Profundis Aquarum

De Profundis Aquarum

The piece was commissioned for a project called Aqua Alta, which relates to the fact that Venice is sinking and links this with the whole question of the destruction of the environment. The text, from Psalm 69, reflects these concerns in an abstract way.

Fior me it was a pleasure to work for the first time with a group of baroque and renaissance instruments and to take on board all kinds of questions about specific techniques, tuning and so on, and to work directly with some very fine and highly individual musicians, who were invariably helpful. My main link was with the director of Serikon, the baroque trombonist Daniel Stigall, who introduced me to various musicians, with whom I worked personally or through correspondence. 

As a result we have future projects involving my own singer Anna Maria Friman and John Potter, with cornetto, shawm and trombone. (see photo)