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Duration: 17’
Instrumentation: 2 Pan-pipes, 2 alto saxophones, bass-clarinet, 2 sampling keyboards, octopads (with sampler), 5-string violin, 5-string cello, electric guitar, electric bass
First Performance: Bristol, April 18th 1993

Note : The Archangel Trip (1992)

The Archangel Trip (1992)

This piece, written for Icebreaker, uses most of the instruments available within its unique line-up. The title, and aspects of the musical imagery, comes from a pun derived from Icebreaker's name and inspired by a documentary film about two Russian icebreakers that ply the seas above the northern coasts of Russia. The home port of the ships is the north-western town of Archangel and the two ships move independently through these frozen and inhospitable seas - one sailing from east to west, the other from west to east - and meeting occasionally when their paths cross. The piece, then, becomes a kind of journey, moving from one musical state to another. It begins and ends in home territory, a sequence of drones derived from Japanese court music. The central section is an extended arioso for saxophones, doubled at times by the electric guitar using an E-bow, accompanied by electric strings, rough-hewn percussion and hocketting pan-pipes.

The idea for the piece was suggested in part by Jules Verne's novel Measuring a Meridian.



Duration: 58'
Instrumentation: mixed instruments 3-4 players (bass, tenor horn, clarinet, bass-clarinet, horn, percussion, keyboards) plus 2 works for village band from their own repertoire
First Performance for Installation at Chateau d'Oiron, France, June 25 1993



(+ viola and strings and viola and ensemble versions)

Duration: 12'
Dedication: Debbie Mason
Instrumentation (i): viola and piano
First  Performance: Fruitmarket Gallery Edinburgh, October 19 1993
Instrumentation (ii) (revised 1994): solo viola, harp (or piano), strings (min.3.3.3.2.1), percussion (bass drum, tam-tam, 2 cymbals)
NB this version is longer and has a modified solo part too
First Performance: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London June 30th 1994

Note : The North Shore (1993)

The North Shore (1993)

This piece, originally for viola and piano, was written for Bill Hawkes and Nic Hodges to play at the opening of an exhibition of the work of James Hugonin in Edinburgh. It has been subsequently expanded both in duration and instrumentation to give two other versions: one for solo viola, strings and harp (or piano), the other specially written for my ensemble (solo viola, clarinet, electric guitar, viola, cello, bass and piano). Through working with Bill Hawkes, and earlier with Alexander Balanescu, I have become more and more interested in the viola both in ensemble and as a solo instrument. Indeed I was originally to write a work for voice and viola for the exhibition but due to the unavailability of the singer I wrote this instrumental piece instead, retaining nevertheless the original intention of connecting the piece with a specific geographical region. I particularly like the relationship between the abstraction of Hugonin's paintings and the location where they are painted - the North East of England. Having already written a number of vocal pieces that use Northumbrian texts (by Caedmon) I decided however to move a little further down the coast, to Whitby where I had spent summers as a child and particularly to the cliffs by St Hilda's Abbey. The North Shore, therefore, takes this austere location as its inspiration - the same as the descriptive narrative used for the vocal piece I subsequently wrote based on Bram Stoker's Dracula (From Mina Harker's Journal).  It represents a kind of response to the "Idea of North" found in the work of Glenn Gould, as well as a reflection on the obsession of Jules Verne's Captain Hatteras who, in his final madness, would walk only towards the north.

 

 

 



Text: from Bram Stoker's Dracula
Duration 22'
Instrumentation: Baritone voice, viola
First Performance: Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, January 6th 1994

Note : From Mina Harker's Journal

From Mina Harker's Journal

I was approached by James Hugonin some time ago to write a vocal piece for a series of concerts linked to exhibitions of his paintings. We met in Newcastle and talked about his work and I looked at a number of pictures. I decided to write something which was, at the same time, a response to the physical context in which the pictures were made (the North East of England) and in an oblique way linked with the culture of the area. I had already written pieces for members of the Hilliard Ensemble which used 7th Century Northumbrian verse, in particular Cadman Requiem with its use of Caedmon's Creation Hymn.

I chose as text lines from Bram Stoker's Dracula, especially those which presage the wreck of the mysterious ship Demeter at Whitby. As a child I had spent many summers in Whitby, and it was at Whitby too that Caedmon had written his poetry. I noted the Dracula connection when I began re-reading the book following my friend Tom Waits' appearance in the recent film version. It was then that I noticed that the Whitby incidents are described from the vantage point of the cliffs beneath St. Hilda's Abbey, the same place I used to visit, and the same Abbey where Caedmon worked.

For this piece I decided to write for solo baritone voice with viola, and to work in an economical and restrained way moving between the form of the melodrama (spoken voice and accompaniment, like Strauss's Enoch Arden for example) and song. I plan to write other pieces from subsequent parts of this narrative.

Gavin Bryars

 

Note : Text of From Mina Harker's Journal

Text of From Mina Harker's Journal

(Spoken) The day was unusually fine till the afternoon, when some of the gossips who frequent the East Cliff churchyard, and from that commanding eminence watch the wide sweep of sea visible to the north and east, called attention to a sudden show of 'mares'-tails' high in the sky to the north-west. The wind was then blowing from the south-west in the mild degree which in barometrical language is ranked 'No. 2: light breeze'. The coastguard on duty at once made report, and one old fisherman, who for more than half a century has kept watch on weather signs from the East Cliff, foretold in an emphatic manner the coming of a sudden storm. The approach of sunset was so very beautiful, so grand in its masses of splendidly-coloured clouds, that there was quite an assemblage on the walk along the cliff in the old churchyard to enjoy the beauty.

Before the sun dipped below the black mass of Kettleness, standing boldly athwart the western sky, its downward way was marked by myriad clouds of every sunset-colour - flame, purple, pink, green, violet, and all the tints of gold; with here and there masses not large, but of seemingly absolute blackness, in all sorts of shapes, as well outlined as colossal silhouettes. More than one captain made up his mind then and there that his 'cobble' or his 'mule'  would remain in the harbour till the storm had passed. The wind fell away entirely during the evening, and at midnight there was a dead calm. There were but few lights in sight at sea, for even the coasting steamers which usually 'hug' the shore so closely, kept well to seaward, and few fishing-boats were in sight. (Add some 'singing' tone) The only sail noticeable was a foreign schooner with all sails set, which was seemingly going westwards. the foolhardiness or ignorance of her officers was a prolific theme for comment whilst she remained in sight, and efforts were made to signal her to reduce sail in face of her danger. Before the night shot down she was seen with sails idly flapping as she gently rolled on the undulating swell of the sea.

"As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean"

(Recitativo) Shortly before ten o'clock the stillness of the air grew quite oppressive, and the silence was so marked that the bleating of a sheep inland or the barking of a dog in the town was distinctly heard, and the band on the pier...was like a discord in the great harmony of nature's silence. A little after midnight came a strange sound from over the sea, and high overhead the air began to carry a strange, faint hollow booming.

(Singing)  Then without warning the tempest broke. With a rapidity which seemed incredible the whole aspect of nature at once became convulsed. The waves rose in growing fury, each over-topping its fellow, till in a very few minutes the lately glassy sea was like a roaring and devouring monster. White-crested waves beat madly on the level sands and rushed up the shelving cliffs; others broke over the piers, and with their spume swept the lanthorns of the lighthouses which rise from the end of either pier of Whitby harbour. The wind roared like thunder, and blew with such force that even strong men clung with grim clasp to the iron stanchions. To add to the dangers of the time, masses of sea-fog came drifting inland - white, wet clouds, which swept by in ghostly fashion, so dank and damp and cold that it needed but a little effort of imagination to think that the spirits of those lost at sea were touching their living brethren with the clammy hands of death, and many shuddered as the wreaths of sea-mist swept by. At times the mist cleared, and the sea for some distance could be seen in the glare of the lightning, which now came thick and fast, followed by such sudden peals of thunder that the whole sky overhead seemed trembling under the shock of the footsteps of the storm. Some of the scenes thus revealed were of immeasurable grandeur and of absorbing interest - the sea, running mountains high, threw skywards with each wave mighty masses of white foam, which the tempest seemed to snatch at and whirl away into space;  here and there a fishing boat, with a rag of sail, running madly for shelter before the blast; now and again the white wings of a storm-tossed sea-bird. On the summit of the East Cliff the new searchlight was ready  and in the pauses of the inrushing mist the officers swept with it the surface of the sea. Once or twice a fishing-boat, with gunwhale under water, rushed into the harbour, able, by the guidance of the sheltering light, to avoid the danger of dashing against the piers. Before long the searchlight discovered some distance away a schooner with all sails set. The wind had by this time backed to the east. Between her and the port lay the great flat reef on which so many good ships have from time to time suffered, and, with the wind blowing from its present quarter, it would be quite impossible that she should reach the entrance of the harbour. It was now nearly the hour of high tide, but the waves were so great that in their troughs the shallows of the shore were almost visible, and the schooner, with all sails set, was rushing with such speed that.- "she must fetch up somewhere, if it was only in hell." Then came another rush of sea-fog, - a mass of dank mist, which seemed to close on all things like a grey pall, and left available to men only the organ of hearing, for the roar of the tempest, and the crash of the thunder, and the booming of the mighty billows came through the damp oblivion even louder than before. the rays of the searchlight were kept fixed on the harbour mouth ... The wind suddenly shifted to the north-east, and the remnant of sea-fog melted in the blast; and then, between the piers, leaping from wave to wave as it rushed at headlong speed, swept the strange schooner before the blast, with all sail set, and gained the safety of the harbour. The searchlight followed her, and a shudder ran through all who saw her, for lashed to the helm was a corpse, with drooping head, which swung horribly to and fro at each motion of the ship. No other form could be seen on deck at all.  A great awe came on all as they realised that the ship, as if by a miracle, had found the harbour unsteered save by the hand of a dead man!  The schooner paused not, but rushing across the harbour, pitched herself on that accumulation of sand and gravel washed by many tides and many storms into the south-east corner of the pier jutting under the East Cliff..

(Recitativo) The vessel drove up on the sand-heap. Every spar, rope and stay was strained, and some of the 'top-hammer' came crashing down. But the very instant the shore was touched an immense dog sprang up on deck from below, as if shot up by the concussion, and running forward, jumped from the bow on to the sand. Making straight for the steep cliff, where the churchyard hangs over the laneway to the East Pier so steeply that some of the flat tombstones  actually project over where the sustaining cliff has fallen away, it disappeared in the darkness, which seemed to intensify just beyond the focus of the searchlight.

The men working the searchlight then turned the light on the derelict and kept it there. I was permitted to climb on deck and saw that dead seaman whilst actually lashed to the wheel. (Reduce  to 'singing/speaking' tone) The man was simply fastened by his hands, tied one over the other, to a spoke of the wheel. Between the inner hand and the wood was a crucifix, the set of beads on which it was fastened being around both wrists and wheel, and all kept fast by the binding cords...In his pocket was a bottle, carefully corked, empty save for a little roll of paper. The man must have tied up his own hands, fastening the knots with his teeth. The dead steersman has been reverently removed from the place where he held his honourable watch and ward till death.

(Spoken) Already the storm is passing, and its fierceness is abating; the crowds are scattering homewards, and the sky is beginning to redden over the Yorkshire wolds. I shall send further details of the derelict ship which found her way so miraculously into harbour in the storm.



Duration: 19 '
Dedication: Roger Heaton
Instrumentation: 4 B flat clarinets, 2 alto-clarinets, 2 bass-clarinets, 1 contra-bass clarinet, (optional bass-drum, Tam-Tam, Tubular bells)

Note : Three Elegies for Nine Clarinets (1993)

Three Elegies for Nine Clarinets (1993)

In June 1993 when I was working with members of my ensemble on a project in France at the Chateau d'Oiron I promised Roger Heaton a piece as a present for all his work for me over the years. The piece is dedicated to him. Roger has been a member of my ensemble since 1986, though I have known him and his playing for much longer, and he has recorded a number of my pieces.  At first I thought of a fairly short unaccompanied solo work, but eventually the piece developed into a longer and larger ensemble piece for 4 B flat clarinets, 2 alto clarinets, 2 bass clarinets and 1 contra-bass clarinet, with optional discrete percussion in places utilising all the facilities of studio multi-tracking. The piece begins with an extended series of unison lines, gradually evolving into a sequence of accompanied solos for either clarinet or bass clarinet with the full ensemble reached some way into the piece. Although the music is generally rich and slow, in live performance there is an optional fast, high, quiet Prelude for unaccompanied clarinet which leads into the opening unisons of the ensemble section. At all times I had in mind Roger's warm, refined sound as well as his abilities in areas of new music, such as the use of multiphonics which appear from time to time. For live performance with my ensemble I have added material for electric guitar and two percussion.

Note : Three Elegies for Nine Clarinets (version for Siobhan Davies)

Three Elegies for Nine Clarinets (version for Siobhan Davies)

I wrote Three Elegies for Nine Clarinets in 1993 as a gift to Roger Heaton following a particularly tricky project in France where, as with all my players, he responded without flapping, under great pressure. I had been commissioned to make an installation in the Chateau d'Oiron in South West France. The work involved recording music in different spaces in and around the castle and to then replay them in a "listening room", which would be a kind of acoustic map of the castle. Because of the nature of the space and the environment, the only time when we could record was between midnight and 4 AM. I would write music during the day and record that night, but I felt a little guilty about the pressure that this placed on Roger and Dave Smith, the two members of my ensemble who worked with me. Afterwards I said, rashly, "I owe you a piece" - which is the Three Elegies. Roger liked the piece and planned to include it on a CD of clarinet music he was preparing. Once the piece existed, however, he mentioned it to Sue, with whom he was working, and she wanted very much to use it for her dance. In writing the piece its length was not a consideration - it was a freestanding piece of music - but, at 19 minutes duration, it was about 4 minutes too short for the purpose of the dance (which I had never envisaged of course). Roger explained this to me, and felt a little awkward about asking for more - rather like feeling iffy about an unwanted Christmas present. But rather than have the dance start with 4 minutes of silence before the start of the piece (even though the clarinet entry at the beginning is almost from nothing) I was happy to add an extra section at the beginning for unaccompanied solo clarinet, and to dovetail this into the piece, where the last long note of this prelude overlaps and cross fades into the opening note of the original work. So this four-minute prologue was written specially for Sue's piece - and is not included in the version that Roger recorded for Clarinet Classics.

Ironically, some time afterwards, Roger told me that this solo was one of the hardest pieces of mine he had ever played. I said "it serves you right...."

Gavin Bryars, Billesdon, June 5 2009

 



Duration c.58'
Instrumentation: Electric Guitar, viola, cello, bass (with pedals)
First Performance: Laurie Booth Dance Company, Gardner Arts Centre, Brighton, May 6 1994



Duration 7’
Dedication: Ziella and Orlanda
Instrumentation: solo viola, electric guitar, 3 cellos, double bass, bass clarinet
First performance (this version): Studio One, BBC Maida Vale, September19th 1997

Note : Epilogue from Wonderlawn (1994)

Epilogue from Wonderlawn (1994)

In May 1994 I worked with the choreographer Laurie Booth on a full evening piece called Wonderlawn for which I employed a small string group drawn from my ensemble consisting of viola, cello, double bass and electric guitar. In the original dance the final section was accompanied by a version of this Epilogue. I have subsequently modified the instrumentation and made a few other changes to the piece. For live performance I usually add a part for a second viola, as well as a bass-clarinet to reinforce the double bass part. In the published score as well as for the recorded version I include two additional cellos. The piece begins with a simple series of harmonies played as guitar arpeggios sustained by the bowed strings. It then evolves into an extended melody, a kind of song-without-words, for the solo viola supported by occasional duet material for the cello. The music was written specifically for the qualities which my own players bring to this music, particularly the expressive playing of my viola player Bill Hawkes.

The piece is dedicated to my daughters Ziella and Orlanda, both of whom are cellists and both of whom have played this piece with me on many occasions.



Duration 15'
Dedication: to Nexus
Instrumentation: 5 percussion
First performance: Nexus, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, November 1994

Note : One Last Bar Then Joe Can Sing (1994)

One Last Bar Then Joe Can Sing (1994)

Commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain for the virtuoso percussion quintet Nexus, this piece is a reflection on aspects of percussion history, both personal and musical. The members of Nexus are my friends (I played in the Steve Reich Ensemble along with Russ Hartenberger, for example, in 1972 - the year after Nexus was formed) and I have known their playing as an ensemble for almost 20 years. The piece exploits not only the tremendous virtuosity of Nexus but rather more their wonderful musicality and subtlety. The piece starts from the last bar at the end of the first part of my first opera Medea, a very short coda for a quintet of untuned percussion instruments. In my new piece, however, this one apparently innocuous bar is progressively fragmented until it is taken over, little by little, by the addition of tuned percussion instruments. Eventually two metal tuned instruments (crotales and songbells) play aria-like material with bows, occasionally joined by the xylophone, and accompanied by marimba and xylophone ostinati.The piece ends with a coda in which phrases are passed from bowed vibraphone to bowed crotales to bowed songbells, supported by tremolos on two marimbas. The rare 3-octave songbells which Nexus owns is one of the great American instrument maker J. C. Deagan's particularly fine instruments and the piece is effectively a kind of homage to Deagan - the Stradivarius of the tuned percussion family. Deagan was a close collaborator with Percy Grainger in the development of tuned percussion music between the wars and I have always admired Grainger's imaginative and audacious use of percussion. The family of keyboard percussion is, for me, as important a group as, say, the string family and equally capable of expressive playing. Indeed in Medea not only does the orchestra have no violins (the strings are from violas downwards) but the percussion section replaces, in effect, the more conventionally important first violins and my knowledge of the music of Nexus was a major factor in this decision.

Gavin Bryars



Duration 15'
Dedication: Lawrence Cherney
Instrumentation: Bass oboe solo; chamber orchestra
First performance. Lawrence Cherney, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, conductor Bramwell Tovey, Winnipeg January 1995

Note : The East Coast (1994)

The East Coast (1994)

for bass oboe and orchestra

I had met the oboist Lawrence Cherney when he invited me to Canada for a series of concerts in the Glenn Gould Studio in 1993. When he asked me for a piece to perform at the Winnipeg New Music Festival I had to balance my admiration for his wonderful musicianship with my personal distaste for the oboe ( in my opera Medea I had replaced the oboes with saxophones). However, I pointed out that this antipathy lessens as the pitch range lowers (via the oboe d'amore, through the cor anglais, to the bass oboe) and suggested therefore a concerto for bass oboe. The French instrument maker Lorée provided Lawrence with a fine instrument which - fortunately, as I'd included the note - had the low B flat key. In keeping with the dignity and melancholy inherent in the instrument's sound the piece does not feature virtuosic display but rather focuses on its ability to sustain long melodic phrases of an elegiac character. In this I had in mind the lovely bass oboe solo in Grainger's The Warriors.

This piece is the third in a series of four for solo instrument and accompaniment (piano and/or orchestra) in which each one has a title with a personal geographical connotation taken from the four cardinal points. The first, The Green Ray, a concerto for soprano saxophone and orchestra, relates to western coasts (of Scotland and southern California); the second, The North Shore, for viola, refers to the image of facing north from St. Hilda's Abbey at Whitby; this third, for bass oboe, is connected both to the east coast of North Yorkshire and to the Bay of Fundy in Canada; and the last, for cello, called The South Downs alludes to the southern coast of England. Those pieces that face in opposite directions, as it were, are in effect mirror images of each other, though coloured by the character of their implied location. With the two string pieces the viola piece's implied austerity is balanced by the cello piece's warmth. In the case of the pieces for reed instruments, therefore, the bass oboe concerto is a much cooler, bleaker variant of The Green Ray.

The piece was commissioned by Lawrence Cherney with additional funds made available by the Arts Council of England.

Gavin Bryars



Duration: 15'
Dedication: "to the cellists in my life"
Instrumentation: cello and piano
First performance: Sophie Harris, cello; Kathryn Page, piano
Michael Tippett Centre, Bath March 1995

Note : The South Downs (1995 revised 2003)

The South Downs (1995 revised 2003)

Of all musical instruments the lower strings are probably my favourites. Indeed they are in my family: I am a bass player, my two daughters are cellists and hearing my mother's cello practice is the earliest sound I recall as a child. In my own ensemble the strings are predominantly low - viola, cello and bass. This piece is the fourth in a series for solo instrument and accompaniment (piano and/or orchestra) in which each one has a title with a personal geographical connotation. The first, The Green Ray, for soprano saxophone, relates to western coasts (Scotland, North America); the second, The North Shore, for viola, refers to facing north from St. Hilda's Abbey at Whitby;  the third, for bass oboe, called The East Coast, alludes both to the east coast of Yorkshire and to the Bay of Fundy in Canada.

Those pieces, facing in opposite directions as it were, are in effect mirror images of each other, though coloured by the character of their implied location. Thus the bass oboe concerto is a cooler and more bleak version of The Green Ray, both being for reed instruments. With the two string pieces The North Shore's implied austerity is balanced by the cello piece's warmth. The area of the South Downs in question is, in fact, that around Birling Gap in Sussex, a location that means a great deal to me. The original verison of this piece was for cello and piano but this new version was specially written for my ensemble and is for solo cello, bass clarinet, electric guitar and double bass.



Music for Dance performance, choreographer Edouard Lock
Instrumentation: 2 amplified harpsichords
First Performance: Theatre de la Ville, Paris April 29th 1995



+ version for string orchestra
Duration: 10'
Dedication: Fretwork
Instrumentation: viol consort (2 trebles, two tenors, two basses)
First Performance: Fretwork, Purcell Room, London May 1995

Note : In Nomine (After Purcell)

In Nomine (After Purcell)

There were several factors which attracted me to write a piece for Fretwork based on Purcell's In Nomine. One was my interest in writing for strings and particularly for families of string instruments. I have written a number of string quartets, of course, but an early piece of mine was for the eight-part "new violin family", and I pay particular attention to the composition of strings within an orchestral context - the opera Medea uses only violas, cellos and basses. The homogeneous blend of the 6-part consort, with its three pairs of viols, is a sound that I have enjoyed for some time.

A second factor relates to an interest in music which refers to other music or to other musical values. In the recent past, for example, I have written pieces for other 'early music specialists' such as the Hilliard Ensemble where I incorporated vocal and ensemble techniques from their repertoire, which goes back to the 12th century. The Purcell 6-part Fantasia itself comes towards the end of almost two centuries in which many English composers wrote pieces based on Taverner's mass Gloria tibi Trinitas and I focus on this origin as well as on the Purcell Fantasia itself.

There are many, to me, curious aspects of the viol consort as an ensemble, for example the tuning of the instruments which make natural harmonics a useful device given the fact that there is a string of every named note except B. In addition, the restraint found within the consort's dynamic range attracted me especially (ff is not really a viol dynamic) making it a natural vehicle for understatement.

 

 

 



Text: Etel Adnan
Duration 9'
Dedication: Jane Quinn and Martin Duignan
Instrumentation: Soprano voice, bass clarinet, electric guitar, 2 violas, cello, bass
First Performance: Sarah Leonard and Gavin Bryars Ensemble, BBC Recording May 20th 1995 (broadcast June 4th 1995)



Medea Act 1 scene A (new opening scene)
First performance (new revised version); Tramway, Glasgow, November 3rd 1995
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conductor Martyn Brabbins



Duration: 11'
Dedication: Maggie Cole
Instrumentation: harpsichord solo
First performance: Maggie Cole, Pebble Mill, Birmingham October 4th 1995 (live broadcast BBC Radio 3)

Note : After Handel's "Vesper" (1995)

After Handel's "Vesper" (1995)

for harpsichord solo

I have written a number of works for Early Music performers such as the Hilliard Ensemble, with whom I have had a close relationship for some years, and most recently for the viol consort Fretwork, so I responded with interest to the request for a solo harpsichord piece from Maggie Cole. My first encounter with the harpsichord in a contemporary context was in 1968 when I worked as an assistant to John Cage in Illinois on his HPSCHD. My recollection of that work, and its use of chance operations, led me to the short passage in Raymond Roussel's novel Impressions d'Afrique where there is the fictional account of the blind Handel composing an oratorio,Vesper, by a curious set of chance operations involving sprigs of holly and coloured ribbons. This story drew me away from Cage's method (there is no use of chance in my piece) to 17th and 18th century keyboard music and, with Maggie's help, I became acquainted with a wide range of keyboard music and types of instruments which helped inform the writing of this piece. I was attracted to the quasi-improvisational ethos of the music of Frescobaldi for the single manual Italian harpsichord and, at the other extreme, to music written for the larger two manual German instrument. In the spirit of this music I have offered many options with ornamentation, suggesting some, writing out others completely, but also encouraging the player to use her invention and instincts to add others where not specified and generally to adopt an open approach to the piece.

After Handel's "Vesper" is dedicated to Maggie Cole.

 

 

 



Duration:  35'
Dedication: Julian Lloyd Webber
Instrumentation: solo cello, 2(1).1 + cor anglais, 2(1), 2(1); 2.0.0.0.; harp; perc.(2 players) (bells, marimba, vibes, 2 suspended cymbals, Tam-Tam, Bass Drum, timps - 4 drums); strings
First performance: Julian Lloyd Webber, cello, English Chamber Orchestra, cond. James Judd, Barbican, London November 24th 1995

Note : Cello Concerto (1995)

Cello Concerto (1995)

(Farewell to Philosophy)

I have a great fondness for the lower string instruments: I am a bass- player; my mother was a cellist, as are both my daughters; my own ensemble includes two violas, a cello and a bass, and in a number of orchestral works, starting with my opera Medea I omit the entire violin section from the orchestra. As I have written a number of works for solo instrument or voice with orchestra, I welcomed the opportunity to write a concerto for cello and orchestra and especially one which focuses particularly on the instrument's lyrical qualities.  The cello is, arguably, the most 'vocal' of instruments with its range going from the lowest notes of the average bass voice, to the highest notes of the soprano. Although the piece is in one continuous movement, and the soloist is playing almost without a break, it nevertheless falls into distinct sections which are recognisable by a shift of tempo, a change of instrumental focus, as well as by a change in the music's character.

One of the early ideas the original soloist Julian Lloyd Webber and I discussed was that it might form a companion piece to one of the Haydn concertos. This immediately suggested a number of particular musical references. The subtitle to my cello concerto, for example, combines the subtitles of two idiosyncratic Haydn symphonies and I allude to them in different ways - chiefly through orchestration. For The Philosopher I include a section in the concerto where the accompanying orchestration resembles that of the symphony's first movement (alternating pairs of English and French horns, muted violins and unmuted lower strings) as well as the implacably strict tempo. For The Farewell, the allusion is effected by the progressive reduction in orchestration towards the end of the concerto. Indeed, apart from the orchestral tutti in the last few bars, the last pages of the score are virtually for string quartet. Haydn was also, after all, the "father" of the string quartet.

The piece is not a show-piece calling for great virtuosic display, although it is not an easy work, but rather one in which the soloist is called upon to play extended melodic phrases, and to shape the piece, almost like the leader of a chamber music ensemble. There is no cadenza, but the piece calls for great stamina and bow control - the soloist is given only four or five bars rest in the whole concerto.

The subtitle of the cello concerto also refers to my own background as a philosophy graduate who moved into a career in music....

The piece was commissioned by Philips Classics for Julian Lloyd Webber and is dedicated to him.



Text: Etel Adnan
Duration: 30'
Dedication: Jane Quinn and Martin Duignan
Instrumentation: Soprano voice, bass clarinet (and clarinet), electric guitar (and acoustic guitar), 2 violas, cello, bass
First performance: Valdine Anderson and Gavin Bryars Ensemble, Almeida Theatre, London, July 20th 1996

Note : Adnan Songbook (1996)

Adnan Songbook (1996)

The songs in the Adnan Songbook set a group of eight Love Poems by the Lebanese writer Etel Adnan. Etel left Beirut many years ago and now lives and works in California and Paris. I collaborated with her on Robert Wilson's large scale operatic project, the CIVIL WarS in 1984, and one aria from that opera to words by Etel, "La Reine de la Mer", forms part of my cantata Effarene. We worked together, with a number of other performers and designers, in the isolated setting of the Monastery of La Sainte Baume in the mountains above Marseilles in a bitterly cold winter.

The first of the poems to be set was the fifth one which was written for Mary Wiegold and the Composers Ensemble in 1992. The first and second, sung by Sarah Leonard, were written in 1995, commissioned by the BBC for the 'Songbook' series as part of their 'Fairest Isle' season. The remainder were commissioned by the Almeida and written in 1996 for performance by Valdine Anderson with my ensemble and she gave the first complete performance in July 1996. Since Anna Maria Friman joined my ensemble this has become a piece closely associated with her voice.

The instrumentation is a restrained one using only 6 players but with a combination of instrumental sonorities that characterise my ensemble: 2 violas, cello, double bass, electric guitar (doubling acoustic guitar) and bass clarinet (doubling clarinet). The vocal part, being for a high lyric soprano, was written for Valdine and in all cases the music is written with my own performers in mind. The bass-clarinet, for example, has long been one of my favourite instruments and I enjoy the possibility of its extreme ranges. With the electric guitar I generally prefer it to be played without attack, allowing sustained chords or melodic lines to complement those of the strings, and this grainy combination of electric guitar and low strings was one which I first used with Bill Frisell in After the Requiem (1990). The formation of the strings here provides in effect a kind of string quartet, transposed substantially downwards. For the last three songs the bass-clarinet moves to B flat clarinet, and the electric guitar changes to the classical acoustic instrument.


There are many cross-references between the songs, as there are between the poems, and three of them are extended by instrumental epilogues - viola for numbers 2 and 8, clarinet for number 6. The first two songs are played together without a break.

The Adnan Songbook is dedicated to my friends Jane Quinn and Martin Duignan.

Note : Text for The Adnan Songbook

Text for The Adnan Songbook


I.
I had a gypsy
with Indian silver
all over her body

She had a
navel like the morning star
and eyes
like the meadows
of the sierras

She was a deer
and a trail
leading to an archetypal
lake

One day the sun shone
on her hair
and the forest caught fire
only the car broke down
by the curve of
the road

And we slept on a hospital bed
to rise again
like the Indian Rainbow.

II.
The sun came in
The pain went out
a window on the lone mountain

I
became
a tree decrucified
rendered
to
its roots.

2000 years of suffering redeemed
in a woman’s two-days’
flight
from paradise to paradise
we went with no mule
nor train
but with our hands and our eyes.

III.
I went to the drugstore
to sell my pain
I got a penny and bought an Indian rug
on the grey wool
I read the footstep of
a sheep
on the black line      I followed a
trail

and we arrived at a meadow
there, only water talked
to us
we spoke of rain and fire
and the three of us
slept together
because we became the morning dew.

IV.
No one asked you to be an angel of
fear
or even of death

We only wanted your skin to be
as smooth
as the sea
an October afternoon
in Beirut, Lebanon
between two civil wars.

You came
with a handful of pain
and a smile
which broke the ground under my feet
as the earthquake does
when two people
meet.

V.
You are a white cloud
coming down my spine
fire moves its fingers along
my pain
but two black eyes remain
resolved in tears
and
the cloud becomes a song
I heard in the fog
and over the city
while you were counting
the money
for yesterday’s hospital
bed.

We are not playing a game
of sorrow
we are trying to grow
wings
and
fly.

VI.
You are under my hands
a piece of fire
which doesn’t burn itslef out,
ever

You cry with the rain
and laugh every morning
at the advent of the sun

I see you
with your cousins the deer
chase shadows
under the oak trees of the ranch

You refused a
voyage to the moon
in order to
stay
a moment more
in bed.

VII.
White as the unfolded tree
of a winter in
advance
on the sun’s decisions
you draw my naked body
on the city’s
invisible walls
and a million tiny roads
go to a single point.
White as Ophella’s pallor
you make haggard statements
so that
madness and reason be reconciled
for ever

and the warmth of your
passion
takes on
the color of frost
white as a permanent spring.

VIII.
My hand on your hand
both
in the hollow of
a tree
one sky chasing another
sky
both
devouring atoms
and
going to the moon.
Green is the color of
space.

Two lips tasting mushrooms
and the Colorado River
haunting
the village....
from the persistent Mediterranean
to the persistent
Pacific
we cut roads with our feet
share baggage and
food
running always one second
ahead of the running of
Time

we are travelling at some
infinite speed

we are not scared.



Opera, libretto by Blake Morrison (after the novella by Jules Verne)
Duration: c. 2 hours 10'
12 soloists (2 sopranos, 2 mezzos, 2 counter tenors, 2 tenors, 2 baritones, 2 bass baritones)
Chorus (SATB)
Orchestra:
2 (2), 2 (oboe d'amore, cor anglais),1 + bass-cl, 1 + contra;
4. flugelhorn.2 + bass.0
harp
electric keyboard,
percussion (3 players)
strings: minimum 6.6.5.4.3 (1 amplified)

Note : Doctor Ox's Experiment (Epilogue) (1988)

Doctor Ox's Experiment (Epilogue) (1988)

After the final performances of my opera Medea in December 1984 I was interested in the possibility of writing further operas. One was based on Jules Verne's novella Doctor Ox's Experiment ("Une Fantaisie du Docteur Ox") and I wrote two concert works as pilots for this project. The first work was By the Vaar, an adagio for jazz bass, strings, bass clarinet and percussion written for Charlie Haden and performed by him at the 1987 Camden Jazz Festival. The other was an extended concert aria for high soprano and ensemble for an Arts Council Contemporary Music Network tour in the autumn of 1988. The full opera has been commissioned by English National Opera for performance in 1996.

The action takes place in the Flemish town of Quiquendone, a town that appears on no map, although its geographical location is precisely fixed. It is a town where everything happens very slowly; where an engagement of 10 years is the norm; where the council never reaches a decision; that is, until Doctor Ox and his assistant arrive to install gas lighting, which has a devastating side effect. At the end of the opera, Doctor Ox disappears as mysteriously as he has come, leaving the town to revert to its former existence. At the end, one innocent victim of the doctor, Suzel, recalls at a later date the events that have taken place, and realises that things can never be the same again.  The coda from By the Vaar, where the bass is, effectively, Frantz, Suzel's betrothed, appears transformed in this last scene after Suzel has faced the future nervously. The text is by Blake Morrison, librettist for the opera proper, and the vocal part was specially written for the remarkable soprano Sarah Leonard, for whom I have since written a number of other pieces (The Black River, for voice and organ, and The War in Heaven, for soprano, counter tenor - David James - chorus and orchestra).

This piece is dedicated to Ruby, a typhoon which confined me to my hotel room in Hong Kong, and without whose timely intervention the piece would not have been ready in time for the first performance.

Note : Text of Doctor Ox's Experiment (Epilogue) 1988

Text of Doctor Ox's Experiment (Epilogue) 1988

Dear Frantz, how good to sit with you again beside the banks of the idling Vaar - you with your fishing rod, me with my embroidery, the two of us with needles plying the evening's gentle light. We have found our pulse again - the throb of Quiquendone, a town where nothing changed in seven centuries till the doctor came along. Now Ox has gone and we can live once more like sponges do, or coral: not walking but gliding, not talking but murmuring, calm in the temples of our homes. We are deep and measured as those church bells tolling now for evensong - the bells that will one day ring for us, my love, for Frantz and his Suzel.

How nearly we lost each other - and ourselves. What was it made that happen? What trick did Doctor Ox play with his oxygen? He said he'd light the town up, that each flame would burn like fifteen hundred candles and we need never live in darkness again. But when the streets were dug with gas pipes it wasn't lights that burned - but us. That first night at the theatre when his gas came on, I could feel my cheeks flush, I saw your eyes glow like a tiger's, it was as if we were performers, not the audience, an opera of longing with the heroes and heroines ourselves. Next day it seemed a dream but with these signs to show that it had happened - lost shoes, torn collars, a dent in the middle of a hat.

I blush to think of all that followed. The squabbles, the quarrels. The dancing, the drinking. The revels, the rebellions. The whole town an asylum. The people mad to fight and make love to one another. The dogs turned rabid, the sheep angry as bullocks, the horses snapping at their bits. Fruit rioting in our gardens - melons like belfries, twelve-foot cabbages, strawberries so big you could serve four people from each one. And you Frantz - the way your hair grew and your moustache turned up fiercely at the ends. You were pledged to fight a duel with the banker's son, a duel for my hand after all our years together, and I loved it and egged you both on. We were like nomads, tearing up our roots, losing our tempers and our hymens, wearing out our bodies and our souls.

God knows what would have come of us - our troops were at the gate massing for war against our neighbours when - whoomph - the gasworks blew its crown off, and all of us were thrown to the ground. We lay there in the streets, stunned as these carp are in the river, then slowly rose to upright and shook out the brick-dust from our eyes. Back in the deserts of our drawing rooms, we have found the old pulse again, lazy as the Vaar I with its fishbeds, hurrying no decisions, reaching no conclusions, in a daze of traditions and rites. It's good to be ourselves again, good that Doctor Ox has gone, good that we can go back to our maplessness. Yet I feel that I shall never be the same again, that a new age was born which hasn't been extinguished with the gasworks and I want to be sure, yes our marriage hangs on it, that you, Frantz, have that feeling too.



Text: Etel Adnan
Duration 17'
Dedication: Jocelyn Herbert
(i) Instrumentation: mezzo-soprano voice, cello, Korg M1
First performance: Melanie Pappenheim, Sophie Harris, Gavin Bryars, The Island Chapel, St. Ives, Cornwall, April 26th 1997
(ii) Instrumentation: mezzo-soprano voice, electric guitar, bass clarinet, electric keyboard, 2 violas, cello

Note : The Island Chapel

The Island Chapel

The Island Chapel was written in 1997 specifically for performance in St. Nicholas Chapel, St. Ives. The piece involves a response to a number of different stimuli. In the first place there is the chapel itself, a simple, tiny building perched in isolation and overlooking the sea on three sides. The "Island" itself is strictly a peninsula (for James Joyce, "a disappointed island") and on the fourth side it looks back towards the town and the Tate Gallery.

A second stimulus is the relationship between the chapel and the gallery across the bay, and this piece was written in relation to the paintings of James Hugonin in the exhibition (A Quality of Light). Two of his pictures were located in the chapel itself, similar in content to those in the main gallery but much smaller, each one the size of a page in the Lindisfarne Gospels. The relationship between the gallery and the chapel mirrors that of James working environment: he lives near the Northumbrian coast and there is a similar physical and spiritual connection between his studio and Holy Island (Lindisfarne).

I have written music before in response to James's work and in the context of his exhibitions. For this piece I visited St. Ives specifically to spend some time privately in the chapel when the two small pictures from James's Lindisfarne series were being installed. The music, for contralto voice, cello and electric keyboard, was designed for performance to a small invited audience in this intimate, semi-private space and to be recorded for replay in the gallery itself - the original idea was to broadcast the piece. The chapel is tiny and the maximum audience size was 6 people in addition to the three performers - so the piece was played twice and recorded on each occasion. The text comprises two self-contained poems Crossing no.3 and Crossing no.4 from an extended poem The Manifestations of the Voyage by the Lebanese poet Etel Adnan whose poetry I have set on a number of occasions. I wished to avoid any direct reference to the chapel or to the paintings, but rather to find through metaphor and allusion a poetic equivalent.

Just as James' work demonstrates through abstraction an affinity with real spaces, both physical and spiritual, so the music has an intimate relationship with the chapel's poignant solitude, the imagery of the Adnan poems and the musical sensibilities of the performers - Melanie Pappenheim (voice), Sophie Harris (cello), Gavin Bryars (keyboard).

Note : Text of The Island Chapel

Text of The Island Chapel

(Crossing no.3)

I am a bird

regenerated

lost

resurrected

originating not from the empire

of the Dead

but from the bottom of a

female valley

blinded to better

hear waves and goddesses

 

I preferred the waves

to the sea.

 

Feeding on the setting sun

I'm desperately trying

to spend this dark night with an Angel.

 

sumptuous days

precede my birth

as if they were the coldness

of the snow

shipwrecked is my memory

 

The linden leaves are

in turmoil

when a tree postpones its

renewal

 

I am the interplay of day and night.

 

Rambling under the pregnant moon

unbeliever in my own existence

I inhabit the sleep of the dead who,

introduced by archangels

to dark secrets,

pursue their quest....

ferocious is the truth which

manifests itself solely in the

lie of the poem.

 

 

(Crossing  no.4)

 

I go

with speed and love

into the night

 

the hour hovers

between the bread

the faucet

and the sadness

 

sorrow     sorrowful     sorrow

the bridges' escape

under the arch

and the green water

the immense gaze of Nothingness

 

crepuscular twilight

cutting the red sky in two

I am woman

succulent grown

with webbed feet

a crocodile's smile between

my teeth

 

raving mad a man came down the

stairs

stealthily

recapitulating his death

 

the night has devoured its stars

gutters explode

we're animals with no pride

 

trumpet gathering its

herd

love takes the form

of absinths and thorns



Text: Pope Leo XIII
Duration 7'
Unaccompanied voices (TTBar)
First Performance: The Hilliard Ensemble, Little St. Mary's Church, Cambridge July 29th 1997

Note : Expressa Solis (1997)

Expressa Solis (1997)

This piece for three unaccompanied voice was written when I was composer-in-residence for the Hilliard Ensemble's Summer School which was held in Trinity Hall, Cambridge. The Hilliard had planned an evening concert for the second day of the course, but David James had failed to arrive and it transpired that he was very ill and unable to sing let alone teach. The three remaining members devised a new programme so that it could comprise entirely three-part material, for 2 tenors and baritone, but were a little short of material. I learned of this at breakfast on the day of the performance, and said that I would write a piece for them feeling, as I did, a little like a court composer whose duty was to assuage his master's anxieties....  I started after morning coffee at 11 and finished shortly after lunch. I used a text that I had set previously for On Photography and for the third part of Effarene, being a poem in Latin, "Ars Photographica" by Pope Leo XIII and which, for some reason, I happened to have with me. I based the music on the earlier choral setting though with substantial modification given the fewer voices, the different vocal ranges and the absence of accompanying instruments. The piece is in two sections: "Expressa Solis" and "Tersa Perfetta" the second being a nineteenth century translation of the Latin poem, followed by a brief coda.