Duration: c.6’
Instrumentation: French 'village' band (fanfare).
(Commissioned for projected unveiling of statue of Rrose Sélavy in Rouen)

Note : Prelude à la Rrose (1982), also called Hymne à la Rrose (quoi ?)

Prelude à la Rrose (1982), also called Hymne à la Rrose (quoi ?)

This piece, first performed at sight by myself, Dave Smith and Andy Bilham in Reims, is a sketch for a piece designed to be used for the unveiling of a projected statue of Rrose Sélavy in Rouen. It was written at the request of the co-founders of the Académie de Muséologie Évocatoire and the instrumentation of the final version is that seen in a photograph of the "fanfare" of Blainville-Crevon c. 1894. The orchestrated version has a brief, and erratic, snare drum solo in the middle.

Duration: 23’
Instrumentation (i): 2 pianos, 2 violins, percussion ( 2 or 3 players)
First performance: Rote Fabrik, Zurich, 28 April 1985
Instrumentation (ii): (chamber orchestra) 2.0.2(Bs.cl).0;; percussion (2 or 3 players), 2 pianos, strings.
First performance: Conservatoire de Strasbourg, 10 October 1985.

Duration: 10’
Instrumentation: Flute, clarinet, vibes, piano.
First performance: Almeida Theatre, London, 1 July 1985.
Lontano Ensemble

Note : Homage to Vivier (1985)

Homage to Vivier (1985)

The piece was commissioned by the Almeida Festival for performance by Lontano. The 1985 Festival had, as one of its features, the music of the French-Canadian composer Claude Vivier. Richard Bernas had drawn my attention to Vivier's music when we were working together in France the previous year and had given me a number of tape recordings of Vivier's work. Most of the music interested me very little in fact and, to some extent, the most notable aspect of Vivier, for me, was the manner of his death.

However, there was one work, for soprano voice and orchestra, called Lonely Child, which I did find striking and consequently this became the focus of my piece for Lontano. There were a number of musical images that I used which derive from the title of the Vivier piece. These include Lonely Woman (by Ornette Coleman) and God Bless the Child (especially the last recording made by Eric Dolphy, for unaccompanied bass clarinet). I was unable, at the time, to recall any piece called "God Bless the Woman"... The instrumentation of the piece (flute, clarinet, percussion and piano) was prescribed for me, and I decided to use multiphonics in order to blur the distinctions between the wind instruments and, especially with the flute, to take it below its normal register.

On looking at the piece in 1991 I have little or no recollection of having written it and, indeed, the performance at the Almeida Festival was imperfect. For this reason the performance organised by Philip Grange in Exeter is, for me, its first performance.

Gavin Bryars, November 1991

Duration: 23’
Dedicated to Hazel Davies (1931-85).
Commissioned by the Vienna Festival for the Arditti Quartet.
First performance: Messe Palatz, Vienna, 8 October 1985.

Note : String Quartet no.1

String Quartet no.1

("Between the National and the Bristol")

The first string quartet was commissioned by the Vienna Festival for the Arditti Quartet to perform in October 1985. Until then I had never considered writing a quartet partly because, although a string player myself, as a bassist I found myself outside the quasi-privacy of such an ensemble. However, as a way of ingratiating myself into this closed world I introduced aspects of the double bass into the piece. The passage with cello and viola playing heavily in octaves in the bottom register, for example, simulates the sound of the bass, and extended solos in natural harmonics, such as those in the coda, are part of the bass's technique. In fact a great deal of the music is in the high register, most notably towards the end where each instrument de-tunes a pair of strings and thereafter plays only in harmonics, both natural and artificial.  The first violin and viola tune their top two strings down a semitone, and the second violin and cello tune their bottom two strings down a semitone. The original idea was that  natural harmonics would be played on the "artificial" (i.e. de-tuned) strings and artificial harmonics on the "natural" strings.

My knowledge of the players in the Arditti Quartet of that period informed some aspects of the writing in a slightly capricious way. For example, I was least familiar with the playing of Levine Andrade and so I made sure that he, the violist, had the most interesting part at the opening, and several solos throughout. Irvine Arditti's reputation as a phenomenal sight-reader led me to have the first violin's part on the first page of the score almost entirely in open G string semibreves. The first moment of 'romantic' warmth was given to Alex Balanescu, at that time second violin in the quartet, and Rohan de Saram's cello was placed in a very high register for the first few minutes.

When I started to write the piece, my initial idea had been to write a quartet in which each instrument would relate to a composer associated with it as a player, the whole quartet serving as a kind of imaginary séance bringing them together. In this scenario the composers were Ysayë, Vieuxtemps, Hindemith (or Kupkovic), and Schönberg. In the event, due to the need to accelerate delivery of the score to coincide with the Arditti's passing through Heathrow, there was only time to allude to Ysayë, as composer, violinist, quartet leader and to his connection with Busoni - his occasional accompanist and butt of one of Ysayë's best practical jokes, in the Queen's Hotel Birmingham.

The Quartet's subtitle brings together another reference to a hotel and to Vienna. During the time that I was working with Robert Wilson on The CIVIL WarS I undertook research into the life of Mata Hari in order to find text for an aria. One night in 1906, unknown to each of them, the three most famous dancers of the period were staying in Vienna. Maud Allan was at the National, Mata Hari was at the Hotel Bristol, and Isadora Duncan, another reference within the quartet, was staying in a hotel "somewhere between the National and the Bristol".

The piece is dedicated to my sister, Hazel Davies, who died during the time I was revising the piece and, at the suggestion of Alex Balanescu, adding a few bars to the already difficult coda.

Gavin Bryars

Duration: 18’
Instrumentation: solo French horn, percussion ( 6 players),   (+ optional string trio)
First performance: Théâtre de la Ville, Paris 20 November 1986 (reduced instrumentation); Union Chapel, Almeida Festival, June 13 1987(full version)

Note : Viennese Dance No. 1 (1985)

Viennese Dance No. 1 (1985)

for French horn and percussion (6 players)

Viennese Dance No.1 was written in 1985 for Pascal Pongy, at that time principal horn with the orchestra of the Opéra de Lyon. It was written to be included in my first recording for ECM Records and the first performance took place in the recording studio in Ludwigsberg, Germany.

I had worked closely with Pascal during the period of rehearsal and performance of my first opera Medea in 1984 and we became good friends. The music originated in an aria I drafted for Mata Hari, who appears as one of a number of historical and fictional characters in Robert Wilson's projected opera The Civil WarS which I worked on from 1981 until its abandonment in 1984. Some parts of the accompaniment, for a large ensemble involving six percussionists, was tried out during sketch rehearsals in the radio station in Baden Baden. Mata Hari was one of the three most celebrated dancers in the world who, unknown to each other, happened to be staying in Vienna on the same night in 1904  - hence the title. My first string quartet (subtitled "between the National and the Bristol") also recorded for the same album alludes to this coincidence too.


(Text after Pico della Mirandola and Francis Bacon)
Duration: 18’
Instrumentation (i): solo soprano voice and orchestra.
2+1, 2(1), 2+ bs.cl,1+1:
piano; timpani + percussion (2 or 3 players),
strings ( minimum; preferred).
Commissioned by the Royal Holloway College, Egham, for its centenary.
First performance: Royal Holloway College, 25 February 1986
Instrumentation (ii) (version with chamber orchestra)
Solo soprano voice,
1 (picc.). 2 (CA), 2 (contra.).;
Percussion (one player)
Strings (
First Performance: Haymarket Theatre, Leicester  11th February 1990

Duration: 10’
Instrumentation: 2 pianos,( version made only for recording)

Duration: 10’
Instrumentation: Clarinet, recorder, vibes, violin, piano, bass
First performance: Festival of Flanders, Gent, 10 November 1986.

Note : Sub Rosa (1986)

Sub Rosa (1986)

I wrote Sub Rosa for a concert in the Flanders Festival in Belgium in the autumn of 1986. Shortly before that time I had made my first recording with ECM (Three Viennese Dancers) and had been given a number of recordings that ECM had made over the years. Among these was a solo album by Bill Frisell called In Line, which I liked very much. I was particularly fond of the second track, Throughout, which I used to play on headphones during take-off on plane journeys to overcome my fear of flying. Sub Rosa is an extended paraphrase of and comment on this piece. I made a transcription of Bill's solo and combined phrases in new ways, added others, altered the harmonic rhythm, and changed the instrumentation to fit that of my ensemble at the time. The room in the art gallery where we played was adjacent to a large circular room which had an astonishingly long reverberation time, and I placed the descant recorder in that off-stage space. Just as the distant recorder (a part now taken by the electric guitar) is generally paired with the clarinet, so the solo violin is initially mixed with the bowed vibraphone giving an equivalent sense of distance. When Bill Frisell and I met for the first time in Leicester during his British tour we had a meal together at the Curry Fever Restaurant and he listened to the Belgian recording on headphones between courses. "It was," he said, "like some crazy dream". Later Bill and I collaborated on a subsequent recording project for ECM (After the Requiem).

Sub Rosa is the music for the extraordinary final part of William Forsythe's Slingerland for the Frankfurt Ballet where he takes the music into a further dreamlike state by having all the dancers move slowly through space supported by fly wires.

The piece is dedicated to Bill Frisell.

Duration: 12’
Instrumentation: French horn, violin, 3 percussion, bass.
First performance: Théâtre de la Ville, Paris, 20 November 1986.

Duration: 20’
Dedicated to Charlie Haden.
Commissioned by the Camden Music Festival, London.
Instrumentation: Solo bass, strings (3,3,3,2,1 or 5,5,5,5,3), bass clarinet, percussion ( 1 player - vibes, marimba, tam-tam, 2 cymbals)
First performance: Shaw Theatre, London, April 6th 1987 (Charlie Haden, bass)

Note : By the Vaar (1987)

By the Vaar (1987)

By the Vaar was written as an extended adagio for the jazz bass player Charlie Haden accompanied by strings, bass clarinet and percussion. It was commissioned by the Camden Festival and first performed there in April 1987 along with a number of other works of mine having a close connection with jazz. The solo bass part, which begins with fully written material and gradually leads to an extended improvisation, was written with Charlie Haden's sound in mind. I have known Charlie's playing since the time when, as a schoolboy in Yorkshire, I heard broadcasts of the extraordinary first recordings of the Ornette Coleman quartet, of which Charlie was a key member and, curiously enough, the other composer featured in that Camden concert was Ornette himself. When I became a professional bassist working chiefly in jazz and improvised music I knew the individual sounds of most improvising bass-players and Charlie's sound  is a special one that I have heard and loved in many musical contexts. The title of the piece comes from my opera Doctor Ox's Experiment: the "Vaar" being a river in Flanders, not far from Bruges, which flows through the town in which the action of the opera takes place. During the opera there is a quiet and almost uneventful interlude where two lovers, Frantz and Suzel, pass the afternoon by the river, the one fishing, the other working on her tapestry. By the Vaar started out as a preliminary sketch for this scene, like a backdrop for the singers, and aspects of the music appear in the final opera. In this concert work, the solo bass plays chiefly in the low and middle registers, exploiting the unique qualities of Charlie's own bass, with its gut strings and resonant pizzicato notes.

Gavin Bryars