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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)

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

Theatre piece for 2 singers.
Published in EMC Visual Anthology.
First performance: Black Swan, York, 30 November 1984

Duration: 12’
Instrumentation: Two pianos,( 6 or 8 hands)
First performance: University of Louvain, Belgium, 12 December 1977.

Note : Out of Zaleski's Gazebo (1977-78)

Out of Zaleski's Gazebo (1977-78)

This piece, for two pianos 6 or 8 hands, was written for a concert given by myself with John White and Christopher Hobbs in Belgium in December 1977. I subsequently made a version for 8 hands to involve my close colleague and friend Dave Smith in 1978. The piece originates in another work, for piano, tuned percussion, tuba and horn called Poggioli in Zaleski's Gazebo which I wrote for John White's first concert of Garden Furniture Music at the AIR Gallery, London earlier in 1977. Poggioli and Zaleski are fictional detectives - from writers T S Stribling and M P Shiel respectively, who represent opposing poles of the detective process. The one blunders from solution to possible solution, while the other is the model of pure ratiocination. (Both, incidentally, are aristocrats.) This two-piano piece contains allusions to the perfumed harmonies of Lord Berners and Siegfried Karg-Elert, with periodic cadences from Percy Grainger breathing diatonic fresh air into the otherwise heady atmosphere. It is played at a relentlessly fast tempo, only slowing down for the gentle coda where, as in White's SS, there is a final false note.

Note : Out of Zaleski's Gazebo (1977-8)

Out of Zaleski's Gazebo (1977-8)

Out of Zaleski's Gazebo, for 2 pianos, 6 or 8 hands, was written at the end of 1977 and is "out of" an earlier chamber piece called Poggioli in Zaleski's Gazebo in which the characteristics of two different fictional detectives (Count Poggioli and Prince Zaleski) are contrasted. Poggioli solved cases by blundering from one solution to another until he happened on the correct one, while Zaleski was a model of pure ratiocination, never leaving his study, playing an air from Lakmé on the harmonium, fingering an Egyptian scarab, and smoking hashish. The perfumed harmonies associated with him are subject to motoric and obsessive repetition, gradually descending in the first half of the piece, and rapidly ascending in the second half. Periodically short cadences from the music of Percy Grainger force a breath of fresh air into the music. The piece was written at a time when I was working in Composer/Performer ensembles with colleagues such as John White and Chris Hobbs with whom I gave the first performance in Belgium in December 1977.

Gavin Bryars

An installation and series of performances devised by the Quay Brothers for various locations in Leeds

Note : Overworlds and Underworlds

Overworlds and Underworlds

This installation, devised by the Quay Brothers involved several components. For "Overworlds" I wrote a number of songs for children's choir and percussion ensemble/recorders based on the music of Carl Orff, but with new poems by Blake Morrison. The songs were performed in a very beautiful Victoria archade in he centre of Leeds by the children's choir of Opera North, with the new songs being sung directly after the Orff song from which they derived.


Underworlds had a sound installatuon, designed by Mic Pool, which combined many recorded elements - rehearsal material from the children's songs, recordings of low brass, wind and percussion from the orchestra of Opera North, Leeds Parish Church bells, and many other sources. There were several hour-long pieces which were fed into various spaces in the arches below Leeds railways station. This is an area know as the Dark Arches, where the River Aire had been diverted from its course to allow the station to be built in the 19th century. The performance went on for several hours. Different dance ensembles created dances in these spaces, using the installation sound as a source.

The image shown here was created by sound designer Mic Pool and is one of the most stunning images from the whole event.



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

Note : Piano Concerto (2010)


Piano Concerto (2010)

Ralph van Raat approached me about the possibility of my writing a concerto for him some time ago. I enjoyed talking with him and, above all, I liked very much his playing and his approach to music in general, and repertoire in particular. He is very much aware of the nature of my work and we did not feel it necessary to "consult" during the composition process but rather to speak in detail once the piece had been composed to discuss ideas and to make decisions. This continued right up to the performance.

Although the overall feeling of my piece does not convey any sense of urgency, and perhaps the overall tempo is slow, there is constant movement within the piece and Ralph was away of this tendency within my work when he approached me - and it is something that he relishes. Of course all pianists are capable of playing at fast tempi and with agility, but virtuosity also refers to musicality and I have always found it interesting to hear great players play (apparently) easy music (though this concerto is not "easy" in either sense).

The presence of a male chorus within the concerto represents a kind of homage to Busoni, a composer whom I have always admired and whose piano concerto has one in the last movement. As it happens I used a chorus of Russian bass voices in my recent double bass concerto so there is precedence within my own work too. Of course if there are voices then there are words and my choice of the poetry of the great Scottish poet Edwin Morgan alludes to my work with male choirs - I have set six of his "Sonnets from Scotland" already, three of them for the Estonian National Male Choir. The two sonnets The Solway Canal and A Place of Many Waters are heard in their entirety in the piece, and the first gives a subtitle to the concerto, just as Kukol'nik's "Farewell to St Petersburg" gives a subtitle to the double bass concerto.


Note : Text of The Solway Canal

Text of The Solway Canal

Slowly through the Cheviot Hills at dawn
we sailed. The high steel bridge at Carter Bar
passed over us in fog with not a car
in its broad lanes. Our hydrofoil slid on,
vibrating quietly through wet rock walls
and scarves of dim half-sparkling April mist;
a wizard with a falcon on his wrist
was stencilled on our bow. Rough waterfalls
flashed on that northern island of the Scotts
as the sun steadily came up and cast
red light along the uplands and the waves,
and gulls with open beaks tore out our thoughts
through the thick glass to where the Eildons massed,
or down to the Canal's drowned borderers' graves.

Edwin Morgan (from Sonnets from Scotland)


Note : A Place of Many Waters

A Place of Many Waters

Infinitely variable water,
let seals bob in your silk or loll on Mull
where the lazy fringes rustle; let hull
and screw slew you round, blind heavy daughter
feeling for shores; keep kelpies in loch lairs,
eels gliding, malts mashing, salmon springing;
let the bullers roar to the terns winging
in from a North Sea's German Ocean airs
of pressing crashing Prussian evening blue;
give linns long fall; bubble divers bravely
down to mend the cable you love to rust;
and slant at night through lamplit cities, true
as change is true, on gap-site pools, gravely
splintering the puckering of the gust.

Edwin Morgan (from Sonnets from Scotland)

(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

Text: P.K. Page
Duration c.10’
Instrumentation: contralto voice, bass clarinet, bassoon; 2 horns in F; percussion (bass drum, tam-tam, bells, glockenspiel. sizzle cymbal), timpani; piano; strings (min.
First performance: Centennial Hall, Winnipeg: Holly Cole, voice, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, conductor Bramwell Tovey

Note : Planet Earth (1998)

Planet Earth (1998)

Planet Earth was commissioned by the CBC for the Canadian jazz singer Holly Cole to perform at the 1999 Winnipeg New Music Festival. I had begun working with the Canadian poet PK Page and chose to set one of a series of poems, from a collection entitled Hologram, in which each poem uses the poetic form of the "glosa", an early Renaissance form first developed by poets of the Spanish court.

This technique involves writing a four verse poem, preceded by a four line poem by another poet which is quoted at the begining. Each 10 line verse ends (verse one, with line one, verse two with line two and so on) with one line from the quoted poem, the sixth and ninth lines rhyming with the borrowed line.

I followed the artifice of this device, but avoided quoting the original poem. However, I did write music which would eventually have words attached when the line duly arrived in the context of the poem itself.

The music is scored for contralto voice with small chamber orchestra: bass clarinet, bassoon; 2 horns; percussion (bass drum, tam-tam, bells, glockenspiel. sizzle cymbal), timpani; piano; strings (without violins).

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

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Note : Pneuma


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