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., 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.