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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.

For soprano, tenor, 2 violas, cello, bass
Text: Petrarch, translated by J. M. Synge
Duration c. 26’
First performance: Anna Maria Friman, John Potter, Gavin Bryars Ensemble
Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin May 15th 2004

Note : Eight Irish Madrigals (2004)

Eight Irish Madrigals (2004)

for soprano, tenor, and ensemble

The Eight Irish Madrigals come from my Third Book of Madrigals. There are seventeen madrigals altogether in the Third Book (for soprano, tenor, bass and lute) and the first nine were written for the Huddersfield Festival.  For a concert in Dublin I am making new versions of four of these nine madrigals for two singers and six instruments. In addition, four new madrigals are being written specially for Dublin where they will be given their first performances.

Like my Second Book of Madrigals, the Third sets sonnets by Petrarch, but this time not in the original 14th century Italian but in Irish prose translations by J. M. Synge. I came across Synge's Petrarch poems in the University of Victoria library, part of a remarkable Synge collection. They were edited by one of Canada's greatest poets Robin Skelton, who died in 1997 and to whose memory these madrigals are dedicated.

Although Synge first became interested in Petrarch when he visited Italy in 1896 it was not until early 1907, after he had met the American poetess Agnes Tobin and read her translations, that he began to work on his own versions. Part of his intention was to translate love poetry into English but they also served as an exercise in writing prose poetry of the kind he could use in his last play Deirdre of the Sorrows which he wrote in parallel with the Petrarch translations. Both the play and the translations were incomplete at the time of his death in March 1909.

Petrarch's sonnets are traditionally divided into two collections: "in vita di Madonna Laura" and "in morte di Madonna Laura"  and Synge's settings are from the second group. During the time that he was writing them he became aware that he did not have long to live and the opening lines of the first poem show this: "Life is flying from me, not stopping an hour"

Only eight translations from Petrarch appeared in the edition of Synge's Poems and Translations published two weeks after his death and each was given a title in imitation of Petrarch. When four more were added in the Collected Works in 1910 more were included and four of these had titles in a different hand than Synge's. Robin Skelton added titles to five more in his 1961 edition of Synge's translations.

Setting Synge's prose poetry was very different from setting Petrarch's originals - in many ways harder - but always immensely pleasurable, rewarding and challenging. Coincidentally one sonnet which I set in the Second Book of Madrigals also appears in the Synge collection and therefore in the Third Book. Curiously, this is the penultimate madrigal in each book (the last one of the Eight Irish Madrigals).

The eight madrigals which form this collection are:

1. He asks his heart to raise itself up to God

2. He wishes he might die and follow Laura (tenor solo)

3. He considers that he should set little store on earthly beauty

4. He finds comfort and rest in his sorrows

5. He is jealous of the Heavens and the Earth

6. He understands the great cruelty of Death (tenor solo)

7. Only he who mourns her and Heaven that possesses her knew while she lived

8. Petrarch is unable to contain his grief

Gavin Bryars

Note : Eight Irish Madrigals (Adapted from 3rd book of Madrigals)

Eight Irish Madrigals (Adapted from 3rd book of Madrigals)

(Soprano, tenor, 2 violas, cello and double bass)

Hire Only

1. He asks his heart to raise itself up to God

2. He wishes he might die and follow Laura (tenor solo)

3. He considers that he should set little store on earthly beauty

4. He finds comfort and rest in his sorrows

5. He is jealous of the Heavens and the Earth

6. He understands the great cruelty of death (tenor solo)

7. Petrarch is unable to contain his grief

8. Laura waits for him in heaven (tenor solo -obligato soprano)

Note : Text of Eight Irish Madrigals

Text of Eight Irish Madrigals

for soprano, tenor, 2 violas, cello and double bass [2004]


1. He asks his heart to raise itself up to God

What is it you're thinking, lonesome heart?  For what is it you're turning back ever and always to times that are gone away from you?  For what is it you're throwing sticks on the fire where it is your own self that is burning?

The little looks and sweet words you've taken one by one and written down among your songs, are gone up into the Heavens, and it's late, you know well, to go seeking them on the face of the earth.

Let you not be giving new life every day to your own destruction, and following a fool's thoughts for ever.  Let you seek Heaven when there is nothing left pleasing on the earth, and it a poor thing if a great beauty, the like of her, would be destroying your peace and she living or dead.


2. He wishes he might die and follow Laura (tenor solo)

In the years of her age the most beautiful and the most flowery - the time Love has his mastery - Laura, who was my life, has gone away leaving the earth stripped and desolate. She has gone up into the Heavens, living and beautiful and naked, and from that place she is keeping her lordship and her reign upon me, and I crying out: Ohone, when will I see that day breaking that will be my first day with herself in Paradise?

My thoughts are going after her, and it is that way my soul would follow her, lightly, and airily, and happily, and I would be rid of all my great troubles.  But what is delaying me is the proper thing to lose me utterly, to make me a greater weight on my own self.

Oh, what a sweet death I might have died this day three years to-day!

3. He considers that he should set little store on earthly beauty

I was never anyplace where I saw so clearly one I do be wishing to see when I do not see, never in a place where I had the like of this freedom in myself, and where the light of love making was strong in the sky.  I never saw any valley with so many spots in it where a man is quiet and peaceful, and I wouldn't think that Love himself in Cyprus had a nest so nice and curious.  The waters are holding their discourse on love, and the wind with them and the branches, and fish, and the flowers and the grass, the lot of them are giving hints to me that I should love forever.

But yourself are calling to me out of Heaven to pray me by the memory of the bitter death that took you from me that I should put small store on the world or the tricks that are in it.

4. He finds comfort and rest in his sorrows

Sweet spirit you do be coming down so often to put a sweetness on my sad night-time with a look from those eyes death has not quenched, but made more deep and beautiful.

How much it is a joy to me that you throw a light on my dark days, so that I am beginning to find your beauty in the places where I did see you often.

Where I did go long years, and I singing of yourself, I go now, making lamentations for my own sharp sorrows.

It is when I have great sorrow only that I find rest, for it is then when I turn round I see and know you, by your walk and your voice, and your face, and the cloak round you.

5. He is jealous of the Heavens and the Earth

What a grudge I am bearing the earth that has its arms about her, and is holding that face away from me, where I was finding peace from great sadness.

      What a grudge I am bearing the Heavens that are after taking her, and shutting her in with greediness, the Heavens that do push their bolt against so many.

       What a grudge I am bearing the blessed saints that have got her sweet company, that I am always seeking; and what a grudge I am bearing against Death, that is standing in her two eyes and will not call me with a word.

6. He understands the great cruelty of Death (tenor solo)

My flowery and green age was passing away, and I feeling a chill in the fires had been wasting my heart, for I was drawing near the hillside that is above the grave.

       Then my sweet enemy was making a start, little by little, to give over her great wariness, the way she was wringing a sweet thing out of my sharp sorrow. The time was coming when Love and Decency can keep company, and lovers may sit together and say out all things are in their hearts. But Death had his grudge against me, and he got up in the way, like an armed robber, with a pike in his hand.


7. Petrarch is unable to contain his grief

There was one time maybe when it was a sweet thing to love - though I would be hard set to say when it was - but now it is a bitter thing and there is nothing bitterer. The man who is teaching a truth should know it better than any other, and that is the way I am with my great sorrow.

       Herself that was the honour of our age; [and] now is in the heavens where all cherish her, made my [times of ease] in her days short and rare, and now she has taken all rest from me.

       Cruel Death has taken every good thing from me, and from this out no good luck could make up for the loss of that beautiful spirit that is set free.

       I used to be weeping and making songs, and I don't know at this day what way I'd turn a verse, but day and night the sorrow that is banked up in my heart, breaks out on my tongue and through my eyes.


8. Laura waits for him in heaven

The first day she passed up and down through the Heavens, gentle and simple were left standing, and they in great wonder, saying one to the other:

       'What new light is that? What new beauty at all? The like of herself hasn't risen up these long years from the common world.'

       And herself, well pleased with the Heavens, was going forward, matching herself with the most perfect that were before her, yet one time, and another, waiting a little, and turning her head back to see if myself was coming after her. It's for that I'm lifting up all my thoughts and will into the Heavens, because I do hear her praying that I should be making haste forever.


(Text by Petrarch, translated by J.M.Synge)



First performance Gary Karr, Harmon Lewis, Basses Loaded
cond. Sarah Klein
Philip T Young Recital Hall, UVic, Canada

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.

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.

Environmental piece
Published in EMC Visual Anthology.
Incomplete performance only.

Eleven madrigals for STTTBarB, setting Petrarch, Bronzino, Battiferri and Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane.

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Note : Fifth Book of Madrigals ("I Tatti")

Fifth Book of Madrigals ("I Tatti")

The Harvard University Centre for Italian Renaissance Studies - the Villa I Tatti near Florence - has commissioned a number of madrigals from me over the last nine years. The moving spirit behind all these commissions has been the centre's remarkable music librarian, Kathryn Bosi. The first was for the Italian group Vox Altera, who recorded this 8-part madrigal along with the whole of my Second Book (BCGBCD17). Since then I have written eight 6-part madrigals for the German group Singer Pur: four in 2009 and four in 2011. In order to have a complete book three more madrigals have been added to make a book of eleven madrigals The full list is:

(2009: 6-part, STTTBarB - In Memoriam Craig Hugh Smyth)

Cantai, or piango (Petrarch r.s. 229)

I' piansi, or canto (Petrarch r.s. 230)

L'Aura vostr'alma (Bronzino)

Bronzino in ciel l'alma beata luce (Battiferri)

(2011; 6-part - for the 500th anniversary of the birth of the architect Ammannati, husband of the poet Laura Battiferri)

Qual per l'onde turbate (Battiferri)

Fra questa piagge (Battiferri)

Ergitti infin (Battiferri)

Temprato aer sereno (Battiferri)

2013; 6-part, STTTBarB - these continue the pairing of Bronzino and Battiferri, with the addition of a poem by Michaelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane whose setting by Caccini is lost, suggested to me by the scholar and musicologist Janie Cole, who I met through Kathryn Bosi at I Tatti.

Mentre sepolto (Bronzino)

Se fermo e nel destin (Battiferri)

Chi punto ha 'l core (Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane)






Text: Blake Morrison
Duration c. 35’
Dedication: Rita and Martin Cadman
Instrumentation: 3, 4 and 5 voices (A.T.T.T.Bar)
First performance: (first 8) Espo, Finland, December 8th 2000; full set, Engers, August 2001

Text: Blake Morrison
Duration c. 35’
Dedication: Martin and Rita Cadman
Instrumentation: ATTBar/ ATBar
First performance (3 of madrigals): Hilliard Ensemble, Westminster Cathedral, December 21st 1998

Note : First Book of Madrigals (1998-2000)

First Book of Madrigals (1998-2000)

In 1998 I embarked on a project to write a series of madrigals for the Hilliard Ensemble, eventually deciding to collect them in 'books' in the manner of Italian madrigalists, such as Monteverdi or Gesualdo. Indeed, having written many works for the Hilliard Ensemble I sought, in writing these new madrigals, to work within the spirit and aesthetic of those from the Italian Renaissance. I asked my long-time collaborator Blake Morrison if he would be interested in writing some new poems based on the form and content of Renaissance madrigals (John Potter, then of the Hilliard, pointed out that they were chiefly about love and sex - whether an absence or difficulties or abundance of either). The settings are for 3, 4 or 5-part ensemble and the disposition of these ensembles varies. While most of the four-part madrigals are for alto, two tenors and baritone, there are some for three tenors and baritone. Equally of the 3 three-part settings two are for alto, tenor, baritone, while one is for two tenors and baritone.  The poems cover a wide emotional range. Some focus on the details of loving relationships - with a subtle eroticism or, at times, irony -  others deal with love in a more abstract sense.

There are many moments in these madrigals when the individual personalities, both musical and personal, of the member of the Hilliard Ensemble suggest approaches to word setting. The most thorough of these, in terms of the range of internal reference, is the fourth madrigal "Just as the ash-glow", while the last piece in the book "Against dieting", was added as an affectionate joke at the expense of the alto David James. But, as with any music written for particular performers, the work has to exist beyond the confines of the local circumstances of its generation and ultimately purely musical criteria overrule such concerns.

Coincidentally the first four settings were written on Mondays (the first three to be ready for the Lockerbie Memorial Concert at Westminster Cathedral in December 1998, the fourth for a session of filming for a TV profile made by Hessischer Rudfunk in 1999). I wrote the remaining nine on successive Mondays in the summer of 2000 in our summer home in Victoria BC, sometimes writing two, and once three, in a day. The songs are published in the order of their composition.

Second and third books of madrigals now exist, for different vocal formations (written on Tuesdays - 6 part -  and Wednesdays 3-part with lute - respectively)  and a fourth - 8-part - is under way.

The First Book of Madrigals is dedicated to my friends Rita and Martin Cadman

Note : First Book of Madrigals (published ED12679)

First Book of Madrigals (published ED12679)

  1. Web (ATTBar)
  2. Stormy (ATBar)
  3. Almond Tree (ATBar)
  4. Just as the ash-glow (ATTBar)
  5. Within minutes (ATTBar)
  6. Our bodies in the shower (ATTBar)
  7. She'd buy things (TTBar)
  8. All the homely arts and crafts (TTTBar)
  9. In April (ATTTBar)
  10. Who's the more to blame? (TTTBar)
  11. The print of soles (ATTTBar)
  12. My pomegranate (ATTTBar)
  13. Against Dieting (ATTTBar)


Note : Text of First Book of Madrigals

Text of First Book of Madrigals


1. Web (ATTB)

The spider's lurking-parlour

its vestibule of thread

the spin of it walls

closing in and round us

until the hall we entered

hoping to visit life

becomes the manor of our death.

No skylight over the door

no flue of air

only the trap of shadows

and darkness ripening

in the heart of the sun.


2. Stormy  (ATB)

I should have seen from your eyes

and the lightning which broke in them

the storms that lie ahead.


The white ecstasy of bedsheets,

smashed pots and broken furniture,

the forked static of your touch.


But storms pass like headaches do.

Today the rain, in carpet-tacks.

Alone together, we watch the rain.


3. Almond Tree (ATB)

We met under the fork of an almond tree

as March came slowly into leaf.

Our love blossomed like a snow-storm.

White confetti paved the street.


What are we to do now autumn's here?

Your eyes are cold, my arms have shrunk.

The years seem a tangle of dry twigs.

Can we get through them without love?


4. Just as the ash-glow...  (ATTB)

Just as the ash-glow

and cinder-light of the skies

lose all their lustre

once you've seen the moon rise,


and the volted daisies

and bruised delphiniums

pale into nothing

when the sunflower blooms,


and the swallows

plinking on their long string

sound merely garrulous

if you've heard the lapwing,


so the women I'd been eyeing

were a dimmed light

when you walked into vision

that first night.


5. Within minutes...  (ATTB)

Within minutes, our first conversation,

I knew.

Out of nowhere, from the rim of a glass,

the flash

of knowledge, as if their were no choice.

Sewn up.

Like the moment the plane drops through

the clouds

and the land spreads out its patchwork,

and you see,

in crushing detail, the future race to meet you.

Just like that.


6. Our bodies in the shower... (ATTB)

Our bodies in the shower.

The hisp and plather

of skins under the water.

The smoke coming off us.

The stream within the stream.

We were rinsed clean

of everything but desire.


7. She'd buy things...  (TTB)

She'd buy things, expecting our lives to flourish

because the objects surrounding them had changed.

My line was different: no matter how and where

we lived, we were what we were, unalterably.


8. All the homely arts and crafts...  (TTTB)

All the homely arts and crafts -

the soft plinth of a tongue,

the Guggenheim of an ear,

the weave of hands and hair -


are nothing next to the science

of those eyes unseen until tonight,

this lip lightly charred from

the soft combustion of a kiss.


9. In April... (ATTTB)

In April we'll fly to the Lebanon and live among the vines

and the vines will be young and tender

and our bed will smell of cinnamon

and I'll order them not to wake us till we please.


I'll keep you safe

If ever you're lost

I'll go about the streets and broadways

and find you and bring you to my bed.


10. Who's the more to blame... (TTTB)

Who's the more to blame?

You for having eyes

a soul could drown in?

Or me for falling in?


Let's not argue who's to blame.

The only points at issue

are the ones that shrink

and widen in your eyes.


My eyes have grown dim

from patrolling the days

like a camera lens,

trawling for your eyes.


Here's you in New York.

Here's you in London.

Your eyes are everywhere.

Where are your eyes?


11. The print of soles... (ATTTB)

The print of soles across the bathroom floor:

finding them, I felt like Crusoe, and stooped

to test their warmth and wetness, then rose

to follow where they led, not caring that

I knew the end already, as if she were

a stranger, this woman meeting my eyes

in the dressing-table mirror,

one towel tucked just above her bosom,

another knotted round her head,

and waterbeads still fresh on her nape

and shoulders, which I bent to kiss -

meeting your eyes again as I did -

for the first time ever in the world.


12. My pomegranate... (ATTTB)

My pomegranate in the wilderness

my sunlit fishpool

my August torrent

and winter coal.


No one can quench the flame

of this ecstasy

our love is strong as death

and rich as fire.


13. Against Dieting (ATTTB)

Please, darling, no more diets.

I've heard the talk and why it's

good for one's esteem. I've watched you

jogging lanes and pounding treadmills.

I've even shed two kilos of my own.

But enough. What are love-handles

between friends? For half a stone

it isn't worth the sweat.

I've had it up to here with crispbread.

I doubt the premise, too.

Try to see it from my point of view.

I want not less but more of you.


Note: The texts of these madrigals were commissioned from Blake Morrison to be set to music.  Subsequently Blake published 11 of these poems, along with others, under the title "Madrigalia" in his volume of Selected Poems (1999). The first ("Web") and last ("Against Dieting") set in my collection do not appear in that edition. The third ("Almond Tree") sets the original version of his poem, which differs slightly from the one in the poetry collection.

Duration: c.15’
Instrumentation: 2 pianos.
First performance: Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 2 April 1977