Duration: c.10’
Instrumentation: Vibes, marimba (or vibes), 2 pianos.
First performance: Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris (Paris Biennale), 26 October 1980.

Duration: 20’
Instrumentation: Clarinet, bass clarinet, marimba, bass marimba, cello, double bass, 2 keyboards, timpani.
First performance: Midland Institute, Birmingham, 5 November 1981.

Duration: c.2 hours 45’ Opera ( libretto after Euripides. Direction and design: Robert Wilson). Dedicated to Richard Bernas. 7 soloists (soprano, contralto, tenor, 3 baritones, bass). Chorus (SATB). Orchestra: 3 (piccolo, alto). 0. 3 (E flat, 2 bass clarinet). 2 (contrabassoon). 4.0.1 (bass).1. 2 saxophones (alto/soprano, alto/tenor) 2 harps, piano timpani + 5 percussion strings (no violins; 10 violas, 8 or 10 cello, 4 or 6 basses First performance: Opéra de Lyon, France, 23 October 1984. Subsequent performances at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées Paris (co-production: Opéra de Lyon, Opéra de Paris, Festival d'Automne). (1995 revision to be added)

Note : Medea



Medea is my first opera and was first done in collaboration with the American director/ designer/ writer Robert Wilson. Medea was the first work in which he used something other than his own writing for the text. He told me that when he had once been asked what works other than his own he would be interested in directing he had replied Medea, Parsifal and King Lear. In due course he was to do all three, and had already started work on a production of Parsifal which did not come to fruition, but Medea was the first. The project was a leap in the dark for me given that I had written virtually nothing for the human voice, nothing for orchestra, nothing for the stage, and my sole experience of opera had been to attend a performance of Gunther Schuller's The Visitation in Illinois in 1968!

He had got in touch with me in 1979 when I performed in the Festival d'Automne in Paris. In the event he was not able to come to the performance but I learned subsequently that he had asked Benedicte Pesle to let him know her view on the possibility of our working together. He eventually called me and we finally met in April 1981 when I spent a three days talking with him about his work and looking at video recordings. It was at that time that he asked me if I would be interested in writing the music for his production of Euripedes' play, which he had already adapted and for which another composer, the late Arthur Russell, had written music for a workshop in Washington. He was not happy with this music and wanted to see what I might do. He said that, for the play, he would like to have the possibility of certain passages being sung rather than spoken - some of Medea's own speeches, perhaps the chorus and so on. I recorded some draft ideas, which he liked, and then he asked me to look through the whole play and see what lines could be sung and what had to be spoken. By August of 1981 what had started out as a play with incidental music and some singing, had become an opera. However, the original planned date for the play production, for La Fenice in Venice, September 1982, still stood and so the music had to be written by June 1982....

Even before a note was written it was necessary, for reasons of budgets and planning, to decide questions of orchestration and the role of the choir. From some rapid research into what we know (or at least, knew then) about ancient Greek music I made a number of choices. In the first place I used few brass instruments (no trumpets or tenor trombones) and the references to rudimentary xylophones in the literature encouraged me to use a large body of tuned percussion (in the event 5 players, plus timpanist). Then I made the decision to have no violins and have strings only from violas downwards, a decision which has had consequences for subsequent works and for the ultimate formation of my ensemble. In addition I replaced the oboes, my least favourite instrument, with saxophones. Berlioz talks of ways of using the viola - the top string, for example, being associated with 'religious' or the 'antique'. In Act 3 scene A (in the version rewritten for Lyon, see below) the long melody on the violas is entirely on the G and D strings, following Berlioz' recommendation! Saxophones were chosen because of their division into vocal families corresponding to the ranges of the human voice and used in the first instance to support the chorus. My original idea for the chorus was to use only altos and tenors, in the registers where the voices overlap, but this proved impractical (from an administrative point of view...). The very low first aria of the Nurse for example, in the original version, draws on the hypothesis that, in the past, voices were accompanied from above rather than below.

The nature of the language used in the play affected the music of course. The greater part of the opera is in the original Greek of Euripedes. For the Nurse's first aria the rhythm of the music was derived almost entirely from that of the spoken Greek. Later (for example in Act 2 scene A) the Greek language affects rhythm but chiefly within recitative. But there are other places where a metaphorical approach to language is introduced - in Act 3 scene B for example. In Euripedes' original play at this point there is a hymn to Athens, which is in a poetic style quite different to the rest of the play. So I wrote this chorus in a quite different musical language from the rest of the opera, a language which is much more like the conventional operatic choral set-piece than the way the chorus is used elsewhere in Medea - to commentate, to interpret, to interject.



Acts 1 and 2, plus Act 4 scene C (written in New York) and Act 5 scene C (the ending) were performed, with two piano accompaniment at the end of February 1982 following rehearsals at City College, New York with a mixture of students, semi-professional singers and singers, notably Wilhelmina Fernandez, who was originally cast as Medea. This gave us the opportunity to see how the piece worked, and to give guidelines for the opera's completion. Although I left New York prior to the public performance, but at the end of the rehearsal process, I had learned a great deal about the practicalities of writing for the human voice and about how to approach opera. I also managed to see only my second live opera - a production of La Bohème at the New York Met. I had the chance to work in detail with individual singers, like Wilhelmina and others - the virtuoso scene for the Messenger (Act 4 scene C) which uses a very wide range (two and a half octaves, including substantial falsetto) was made possible by being able to work directly with the baritone singer in New York. The other substantial bonus was the opportunity to spend a good deal of time with the conductor Richard Bernas, who was my choice for the opera, who eventually was to conduct all the performances in Paris and Lyon, and who is the work's dedicatee. His knowledge about opera is encyclopaedic and ultimately I owed learned more about opera from him than from any other single person.

Following this I returned to England and completed the writing of the opera by the end of June 1982. At the beginning of July there was a very long meeting in Venice at which we analysed precisely the state of the opera and its readiness for production. It was concluded, after a very difficult and occasionally stormy meeting that the production was not ready (we did not get round to talking about the music) and so the performances were cancelled.......



Jean Pierre Brossman at the Opéra de Lyon committed himself to producing the opera, in partnership with the Opéra de Paris and the Festival d'Automne. In the course of rehearsing the opera, however, a number of things were changed. In the first place Act 3 scene A, where Medea has a friendly exchange with Aegeus - the only scene in the whole opera where she is relaxed, had originally been done in a semi-jazz idiom (Aegeus was to have been played by a black American baritone, to partner Wilhelmina Fernandez). In Lyon, however, Medea was played by Yvonne Kenny (white and Australian) and so the jazz idiom was slightly ridiculous. I therefore re-wrote this entire scene during the rehearsal period. Further, those parts of the opera which still used the spoken word were in English and the view was expressed that, with an opera directed by an American, composed by an Englishman, conducted by an American, with performances only in France, surely this should be put in French. I agreed, but this also meant that those lines which were sung in English had to be sung in French, and the vocal line re-written...

Shortly before the dress rehearsal it was realised that, scenes having been rehearsed individually rather than in sequence, there was both a scene change and costume change before the final scene, and so extra music had to be written an hour or so before the dress rehearsal, copied and put in the players parts before the second half started. Given the extreme length of the opera I held a meeting with the orchestra, in the first instance to apologise but also to discover who would not object to playing extra music. All four horns, the saxophones, the tuba, the bass trombone and percussionists put up their hands. This 90 second interlude remains in the final version and is a testament to their fortitude!! I spoke with the principal horn, Pascal Pongy, after writing the music at speed (all of it involving transposing instruments!) and said that I hoped the music "was playable". His words, which I treasure, were "Gavin, le moment où elle est écrite, la musique est toujours jouable".

Two scenes were cut from the opera before the first performance 3 days later, one for orchestra alone, the other for chorus, due to problems with staging. The lengthy prologue, which was essentially a series of tableaux for with Bob had said he needed little music, proved to need more material and so he collaged texts by the East German writer Heiner Müller on top of the music. This entire prologue was cut when I revised the opera in 1995 and the cut scenes reinstated.

The opera was in 5 Acts, each one with four scenes (except Act 5 which had 3) preceded by a four scene prologue. In the event Act 4 lost one scene (with chorus) and Act 5 lost one (with orchestra).

There were 11 performances - 6 in Lyon and 5 in Paris, all of which played to full houses. Working with the orchestra in Lyon, which was very highly motivated and comprised mostly young players, was an immense pleasure. By contrast the orchestra in Paris was, with a few notable exceptions, aggressively negative and it was chiefly the fact that they were baffled by the extreme (New York) sarcasm of Richard Bernas that the battles were won........


Nurse: Marie Marketou

Tutor: Frangiskos Voutsinos

Medea: Yvonne Kenny

Creon: Steven Cole

Jason: Louis Otey

Aegeus: Pierre-Yves le Maigat

Messenger: François Le Roux

Off-stage soprano: Liliane Mazeron


Conductor: Richard Bernas

Note : Medea: Structure of Original version

Medea: Structure of Original version


Scene A (full cast) tableau of daily life in Colchis -mid morning, olive grove

Scene B (full cast, off stage chorus) tableau of travel through the Anatolian mountains - midnight, rocks

Scene C (full cast) tableau of death, Medea stabbing her brother - midday, dais

Scene D (Medea, Nurse, children, men) tableau of departure, Medea throws overboard pieces of the body to delay pursuit - - dawn, ship


Act 1

Scene A (Nurse) aria in which she tells of the deplorable things that have taken place, and expresses her anxiety about what will happen now that Medea has been deceived and abandoned by Jason.

Scene B (Nurse, Tutor, children) The Tutor joins in and tells further the news that Creon has banished Medea.

Scene C (Nurse, Tutor, children, Medea off stage) Medea is heard

Scene D (Nurse, Medea off stage, Off-stage soprano) Medea sings of her suffering and of being torn between her love for her children and her anger against Jason


Act 2

Scene A (Chorus, Nurse, Medea off stage) The chorus offer their support to the Nurse and to Medea

Scene B (Medea, chorus) Medea describes to the chorus the condition of women in marriage and demands that they be silent.

Scene C (Creon, Medea, Chorus) Creon orders Medea to leave Corinth. Medea persuades him to allow her a delay before leaving. To the chorus she speaks of her initial plans for vengeance.

Scene D (Medea, Jason, Chorus) Medea reminds Jason of what she has done for him, he defends his actions, offers material support, justifies his new liaison with Creon's daughter. The chorus judge him to be wrong.


- interval -


Act 3

Scene A (Aegeus, Medea, Chorus) Aegeus is unable to produce children and has consulted the oracle. Medea tells him of Jason's treachery, her banishment and promises to cure him of his sterility if he gives her a safe haven in Athens. He agrees.

Scene B (Medea, chorus) Now assured of a safe refuge Medea sets out her plans for vengeance, not on Jason but on his new wife and her children. The chorus sing a hymn to Athens, implying their disapproval.

Scene C (Medea, Jason) Medea feigns submission and asks that her children might remain in Corinth rather than share her banishment. She gives a present for his bride.

Scene D (Jason, children - instrumental only) The children bear the gifts - the chorus know that they will lead to death.


Act 4 

Scene A (Chorus) The chorus sing of the impending disaster

Scene B (Tutor, Medea) The Tutor says that the gift has been accepted. Medea receives the news sadly. Knowing of the imminent death of her children she is torn between love and pride.

Scene C (Messenger, Medea, Chorus) The Messenger is shocked by Medea's joy when he tells of the agony of the princess's death, the veil which sticks to her skin and burns her, of Creon's death when he tries to help his daughter.

Scene D (full cast) Scene of the children's murder. Break in the action, seated at a long table the cast speak directly to the audience.


Act 5 

Scene A (Orchestra, Off-stage soprano) The death of Creon's daughter, depicted by a puppet

Scene B (Jason, Medea, Chorus) Jason, seeking his children, learns of their death. Medea refuses even to let him bury them. She escapes in a chariot bearing them to the sanctuary of Hera.

Scene C (Jason, Chorus) Jason appeals to the gods. Corinth is in flames.



Act 4 Scene A and Act 5 Scene A were not in the 1984 performance, though included in the final dress rehearsal

The Prologue and Act 4 Scene D were omitted from the revised version in 1995, Act 4 Scene A and Act 5 Scene A were reinstated, and Act 1 Scene A was re-written.


Duration: 35’
Instrumentation: 2 pianos, marimba, 2 vibes, bells, cymbal, clarinet, tenor horn, strings.
First performance: Secession Hall, Vienna, 22 May 1983.

Duration: 20’
Original Instrumentation: 2 pianos ( 4 or 8 hands), string quintet, optional 2 vibes and sizzle cymbal.
Subsequent Instrumentation: piano solo, string quintet, percussion 2 players (glockenspiel, 2 vibes, sizzle cymbal)
First performance: Secession Hall, Vienna 22 May 1983

Note : Les Fiançailles (1983-4)

Les Fiançailles (1983-4)

A sketch for Les Fiançailles ("engagement") was written in 1983 for a scene in Robert Wilson's CIVIL WarS, in which a Japanese bride delivers two texts: one in French announcing a forthcoming aristocratic marriage; the other an old text in Japanese announcing the link between the Sun and the Imperial throne. When I gave a concert in the Secession Hall in Vienna, I developed the piece further to incorporate the special quality of the Viennese string players who played with me, making a concert work for string quintet, two pianos (8 hands) and percussion. In musical terms this related to the Secession Hall's important role in Viennese music, in particular to its connection with early Schoenberg and Mahler, and the writing for the high strings, for example, consciously evoked chamber music of the period. When work resumed on CIVIL WarS in 1984, in addition to the original piece being used for the bride's aria, this extended concert work appeared during a slow motion sequence where, at a particular point in the music, the actress Delphine Seyrig was to read quietly a letter written by Marie Curie to Pierre, her dead husband. The instrumentation has now been simplified to string quintet, solo piano and percussion.

Duration: 20’
Instrumentation: Soprano saxophone or clarinet and piano.
First performance: Leicester University, 7 December 1983. 20 minutes.
Instrumentation:(ensemble version): clarinet, piano, violin, electric guitar, bass,
2 percussion (marimba, vibes, bells, bass drum, tam-tam).  

Version for sax/ clar and strings

text: Pope Leo XIII
Duration: c. 20'
Instrumentation: Chorus (SATB), harmonium, piano
(see CIVIL WarS)

Note : On Photography

On Photography

For mixed chorus, Harmonium and piano.

This piece was written in 1983 as part of the work I did with Robert Wilson on his large-scale operatic project The CIVIL WarS, designed to be part of the opening of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Although the piece was rehearsed and prepared for recording by the choir of South German Radio in Baden Baden, it was never finally performed due to the collapse of the overall project.

The choice of text and subject matter was mine. At the time we were working on a scene which involved imagery from Jules Verne. I knew that Verne had met Pope Leo XIII in 1884 (a hundred years before our work was due to reach fruition) and that Leo XIII had written a poem Ars Photographica in praise of photography (a modern subject using an archaic language, Latin) when he was still Cardinal Pecci in Perugia in 1867. As it happened, the writer Susan Sontag was considering joining the project and we spoke together several times. I knew, of course, that one of her first major books was on photography, and this led me to set Leo's text almost as a way of welcoming her on to the team. Until 1994 the manuscript was lost - I eventually found it behind a filing cabinet when clearing my office - but a setting of the text was included in my 1984 cantata Effarene, which rescued and reworked a number of elements from that time. Here the text is set both in Latin and in  Italian translation, and the final section has a brief Latin epitaph. The instrumental accompaniment reflected the fact that I had then recently played the harmonium part in Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle.

Note : Text for On Photography

Text for On Photography

(Ars Photographica (1867))

Expressa solis spiculo

Nitens imago, quam bene

Frontis decus, vim luminum

Refers, et oris gratiam.


O mira virtus ingeni

Novumque monstrum! Imaginem

Naturae Apelles aemulus

Non pulchriorem pingeret.


(L'Arte Fotografica (trans. Cesario Testa))


Tersa, perfetta imagine,

Di sol da un raggio uscita,

Oh come ben sai rendere

Movenze, aspetto e vita


Oh nuovo e gran miraculo

Dell'Arte! Opre più belle

Ha mai dipinto l'emulo

Della Natura Apelle?


Resonare fibris, labii reatum, mira ut queant laxis mira gestorum Sancte Joannes;

Famuli tuorum solve polluti reatum, ut queant laxis Sancte Joannes.



(On Photography)


Sun-wrought with magic of the skies

The image fair before me lies:

Deep-vaulted brain and sparkling eyes

And lip's fine chiselling.


O miracle of human thought,

O art with newest marvels fraught -

Apelles, Nature's rival, wrought

No fairer imaging!

(trans. H.T. Henry, 1902)

Opera (incomplete) collaboration with Robert Wilson. Some sections of the music exist in completed form, as follows:
i) On Photography
(text Pope Leo XIII: Ars Photographica)
Instrumentation: Chorus(SATB), harmonium, piano.
First Performance, National Youth Chamber Choir, conductor Michael Brewer, Huddersfield, November 1994
(part of this is used for section 3 of Effarene
ii) 2B
Instrumentation: Percussion ensemble.
(part of this is used for Viennese Dance no.1
iii) Arias
For Marie Curie, The Queen of the Sea, Captain Nemo, The Japanese Bride.
(Marie Curie and The Queen of the Sea arias are used in Effarene)

(text: Marie Curie, Etel Adnan, Pope Leo XIII, Jules Verne)
Duration: 38’
Instrumentation: soprano, mezzo-soprano, 2 (original version 4 pianos), 6 percussion
First performance: St John's Smith Square, London, 23 March 1984.

Note : Effarene (1984)

Effarene (1984)

for  soprano, mezzo-soprano, 2 pianos, 6 percussion

Effarene was written in February and March 1984 for performance at the New MacNaghten Concerts in St. John's Smith Square. The original instrumentation - 4 pianos, 6 percussion and 2 voices - related to the fact that it was paired with Antheil's Ballet Mécanique. Effarene is a cantata comprising 4 extended arias, 3 being paraphrases of material written for Robert Wilson's The CIVIL WarS and the fourth utilising imagery from Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. In addition, instrumental sections of the work derive from my other operatic collaboration with Robert Wilson, Medea. The vocal sections of Effarene are as follows.

1. Soprano solo, to a text in French by Marie Curie in which she declares her passionate belief in Science. The text is set twice: first lyrically, the second time dramatically.

2. Mezzo-soprano, to a poem in French by Etel Adnan, the Lebanese writer with whom I worked closely in the monastery of La Sainte Baume during the rehearsal period of The CIVIL WarS. The poem, "La Reine de la Mer", is one which she had written many years ago in Beirut and I have since set other poems by her.

3. (following an extended instrumental interlude) Soprano and mezzo-soprano duet to a Latin poem in praise of photography by Pope Leo XIII, "Ars Photographica". Jules Verne had met Leo XIII in 1884 - and Effarene was written in the centenary year of that meeting. I also used this same text for a choral piece called On Photography.

4. Mezzo-soprano to a text in French taken from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea - a section where Professor Aronnax muses over a globe, extolling aspects of underwater geography and describing certain mysterious underwater currents. The piece ends with an instrumental coda.

The title of the cantata, Effarene, comes from the name of the principle character, a mysterious musician and organ builder, in Jules Verne's posthumously published short story Monsieur Ré-dièze et  Mademoiselle Mi-bémol.

Note : Text for Effarene (1984)

Text for Effarene (1984)

From 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea - a section where Professor Aronnax muses over a globe, extolling aspects of underwater geography and describing certain mysterious underwater currents. The piece ends with an instrumental coda.


I (text Marie Curie)

Je suis de ceux qui pensent que la Science a une grande beauté. Un savant dans son laboratoire n'est pas seulement un technicien, c'est aussi un enfant placé en face de phénomènes naturels qui l'impressionnent comme un conte de fées. Nous ne devons pas laisser croire que tout progrès scientifique se réduit à des mécanismes, des machines, des engrenages qui d'ailleurs ont leur beauté propre. Je ne crois pas non plus que dans notre monde l'esprit d'aventure risque de disparaitre. Si je vois autour de moi quelquechose de vital, c'est précisement cet esprit qui parait indéracinable et s'apparente à la curiosité.


I am among those who think that Science has a great beauty. A scientist in his laboratory is not only a technician: he is also a child placed before the natural phenomena which impresses him like a fairy tale. We should not be led to only believe that any scientific progress is reduced to mechanisms, machines, gears, as they also have their own beauty. I do not believe either that in our world, the spirit of adventure is likely to disappear. If I see around me something of importance, it is precisely this spirit of adventure which appears ineradicable and similar with curiosity.


II (text Etel Adnan)

La mer bouge dans nos lèvres

Et s'élève comme murailles dans nos yeux.

Le vent dérange nos cheveux

Pour en faire piques et épines

Le voici comme une paume sur l'échine

Apaisé des eaux

L'éternité court sur la matière fluide

Ni mouvement ni essence

Mais le visage lavé et délavé de la mer.

Je suis exposé à la nudité de la lumière

Et abandonnée à la lèvre multiple de la mer

Je suis liquide, élément liquide

La terre ses volcans, ses ravines, sa colère.

Je suis ses torrents et sa vase

Et son limon et son printemps

Liquide, élément liquide,

Je suis la mer et unie à la mer.

Liquide, liquide, élément liquide.

Je suis la mer et la Reine de la mer.


(trans: Etel Adnan)

The sea moves in our lips and rises as high walls

in our eyes,

we suffer at her soft flesh


The wind disturbs our hair,

turning it into spikes and thorns; here it

is, then, like a palm on the subdued

spine of the waters.


Eternity runs on this liquid matter which is

neither movement or linear essence, nor the

trace of a daily kiss,

but the washed and washed-out face of the sea.


I am exposed to the nudity of the light

And exposed to the multiple lip of the sea


I am liquid, liquid element,

The earth, its volcanoes, its ravines, its anger

I am its torrents and its sludge and its silt and its springtime


Liquid, liquid element, I am the sea and the Queen of the sea.


III (text Leo XIII)

Expressa solis spiculo

Nitens imago, quam bene frontis deus,

Vim luminum refers,

Et oris gratiam imagine.

O mira virtus ingeni

Novumque monstrum

Imaginem Naturae Apelles

Apelles Aemulus

Non pulchriorem pingeret

Expressa nolis, expressa solis spiculo Naturae

Expressa, expressa solis quam bene prontis

Novumque monstrum refers

Nitens imago quam bene frontis deus

Vim luminum O mira gratiam

Expressa solis spiculo

Mira virtus ingeni novum

Et oris gratiam

Mira oris gratiam


(trans: H T Henry, 1902))

Sun -wrought with magic of the skies,

The Image fair before me lies:

Deep- vaulted brain and sparkling eyes

And lip's fine chiseling.


O miracle of human thought,

O art with newest marvels fraught -

Apelles, Nature's rival, wrought

No fairer imaging!



La mer était magnifique, le ciel pur. À peine si le long véhicule ressentait les larges ondulations de l'océan. Une légère brise de l'est ridait la surface des eaux. L'horizon, dégagé de brumes, se prêtait aux meilleures observations. Nous n'avions rien en vue. Pas un écueil, pas un îlot. L'immensité déserte. Mes regards se fixèrent sur le vaste planisphère étalé sur la table, et je plaçai le doigt sur le point même où se croisaient la longtitude et la latitude observées. La mer a ses fleuves comme les continents. Ce sont des courants spéciaux, reconnaisables à leur température, à leur couleur, et dont le plus remarquables est connu sous le nom du Gulf Stream. La science a déterminé sur le globe, la direction de cinq courants principaux: un dans l'Atlantique nord, un second dans l'Atlantique sud, un troisième dans le Pacifique nord, un quatrième dans le Pacifique sud, et un cinquième dans l'océan Indien sud. Il est même probable qu'un sixième courant existait autrefois dans l'océan Indien nord, lorsque les mers Caspienne et d'Aral ne formaient qu'une seule et même étendue d'eau. Or, au point indiqué sur le planisphère, se déroulait l'un de ces courants, le Kuro Scivo des Japonais, le Fleuve noir, qui, sorti du golfe du Bengale où le chauffent les rayons perpendiculaires du soleil de Tropiques, traverse le détroit de Malacca, prolonge la côte d'Asie, s'arrondit dans le Pacifique nord  jusqu'aux îles Aléoutienne, charriant des troncs de camphriers et autres produits indigènes, et tranchant par le pur indigo de ses eaux chaudes avec les flots de l'océan. Je suivais le courant du regard, je le voyais se perdre dans l'immensité du Pacifique et je me sentais entraîner avec lui.

*Shorter version (omits last aria, text by Jules Verne)
Instrumentation: soprano,
2 pianos, 4 percussion
First performance: Leicester, June 1984