for solo piano

dedicated to Ralph van Raat

duration c. 10'

first performance: recording for Naxos, March 2010

Note : Ramble on Cortina

Ramble on Cortina

The term "Ramble" comes from Percy Grainger who I have always admired both as composer and pianist. He uses it for the kind of piece that other composers might have called a "Paraphrase" - his most notable exercise in this genre being the remarkable Ramble on Love, based on themes from Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier. 

This "Ramble" is based on themes from my vocal laude, which derive from13th century manuscripts found in Cortona, Italy. Parts of this piece come from a short set of three variations on one of my laude (Lauda 13 " Stomme Allegro) that I wrote for students at the 2003 Victoria Piano Summer School in Canada. I revised this material and added more parts to the work - alluding to other laude - shortly after I had written my Piano Concerto (The Solway Canal) for Ralph van Raat. It is, effectively, my first piece for solo piano. It is dedicated to Ralph van Raat.



Duration: 10’
Instrumentation: 2 pianos (6 hands).
First performance: ICA London, 4 February 1979.

Note : Ramsey's Lamp (1979)

Ramsey's Lamp (1979)

This piece, for two pianos 6 or 8 hands, was written in memory of my first teacher Cyril Ramsey who had died the previous summer, almost the same day as my mother's second husband, Dr. Appleton. Both died in foreign places - Dr. Ramsey in Canada, my stepfather in a ship near Leningrad. Cyril Ramsey was a very enlightened teacher, and spoke with me about the music of Satie, about John Cage (an unusual subject in Goole in the late 1950's) and he had studied with Eric Fenby, which linked him with the music of Delius. At the same time, he was a ferocious pianist and a man of extraordinary energy, who would start his music classes by racing up several flights of stairs, leaping to the piano stool and roaring into the opening of Schubert's Erlkönig.   It was this Graingeresque quality which I chose to point to, especially to the piece Gay but Wistful from the In a Nutshell suite. The title refers, of course, to Dr. Ramsey as a source of illumination. It was first performed by myself with Dave Smith and John White at the ICA, London in February 1979

for String Orchestra ( preferred; minimum).

Arrangement of Third String Quartet for orchestra, for the ballet Reverence by David Dawson

First performance Netherlands National Ballet, Amsterdam, April 7 2010

Conductor Ermanno Florio

Medea Act 1 scene A (new opening scene)
First performance (new revised version); Tramway, Glasgow, November 3rd 1995
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conductor Martyn Brabbins

Solo double bass and piano
Dedicated to my son Yuri
Duration c. 3'
Commissioned for publication by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM)

for six voices (three sopranos, three tenors), or SSATTBar
Text: Petrarch
Duration c. 70’
Dedication: John Potter
First Performance (of 4) Trio Mediaeval Sextet, Norway April 2002;
first complete performance Yorvox, Cambridge July 19th 2002

Note : Second Book of Madrigals (published ED 12786)

Second Book of Madrigals (published ED 12786)

  1. Benedetto sia 'l giorno (SSATTBar)
  2. Io son già stanco (SSATTBar)
  3. Quando dal proprio sito / Ma poi che 'l dolce riso (SSATTBar)
  4. Poi che voi et io (SSATTBar)
  5. Non veggio ove scamper (SSATTBar)
  6. Ponmi ove 'l sole (SSATTBar)
  7. Non Tesin, Po, Varo (SSATTBar)
  8. I' vidi in terra angelici (SSATTBar)
  9. O passi sparsi (SSATTBar)
  10. Una candida cerva sopra l'erba (SSATTBar)
  11. Che fai? Che pensi? (SSATTBar)
  12. Amor, che meco al buon tempo ti stavi (SSATTBar)
  13. Fu forse un tempo dolce (SSATTBar)
  14. Morte à spento (SSATTBar)

Marconi's Madrigal: Se 'l sasso ond' è più chiusa questa valle (SSSTTT and percussion)

Instrumentation: speaking voices, tape
Duration: indeterminate
Published in EMC Verbal Anthology.
First performance: Portsmouth College of Art, 14 January 1970.

Duration: 20’
Instrumentation: 4 pianos
First performance: Castello Sforzesca, Milan, 23 June 1979.

Duration c.15'
Instrumentation piano(s)
Written for dance by Christine Juffs (Dance Work)

Text: Edwin Morgan
Duration: c. 6'
Male Choir
First performance Estonia Symphony Hall, Tallinn April 6
Estonian National Male Choir, conductor Kaspars Putnins

Note : Text of Silva Caledonia

Text of Silva Caledonia

The darkness deepens, and the woods are long.

We shall never see any stars. We thought

we heard a horn a while back, faintly brought

through barks and howls, the nearest to a song

you ever heard in these grey dripping glens.

But if there were hunters, we saw not one.

Are there bears? Mist. Wolves? Peat. Is there a sun?

Where are the eyes that should peer from those dens?

Marsh-lights, yes, mushroom-banks, leaf-mould, rank ferns,

and up above, a sense of wings, of flight,

of clattering, of calls through fog. Yet men,

going about invisible concerns,

are here, and our immoderate delight

waits to see them, and hear them speak, again.


Text: Edwin Morgan

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

Setting of sonnets from Petrarch's Rime Sparse for 6-part a capella voices SSATBarB.

Note : Sixth Book of Madrigals

Sixth Book of Madrigals

The first five of these Petrarch settings were commissioned by The Song Company and the Adelaide International Festival for performance during the time of Gavin's residency as part of the festival in March 2015. Gavin had enjoyed working with the group two years earlier in Canberra and took the opportunity to work with them again - performing these new pieces as well as existing madrigals and laude.

Five further madrigals are planned to complete the book. The full set of ten poems (of which the first five were performed in Adelaide) are the following:

1. 1. "Voi ch'ascoltate in rime sparse"

2. 2 "Per fare una leggiadra sua vendetta"

3. 3 "Era il giorno ch'al sol si scoloraro"

4. 17 "Piovonmi amare lagrime dal viso"

5. 18 "Quand' io son tutto volto in quella parte"

6. 246 "L'aura che 'l verde lauro et l'aureo crine"

7. 249 "Qhal paura ò quando mi torna a mente"

8. 251 "O m isera et orribil visione!"

9. 255 La sera desiare, odiar l'aurora"

10. 259 "Cercato ò sempre solitaria vita" 



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

Text: St Brendan
Choir (SATB), violin, organ
Duration c. 8'
First performance: Oakham School Choir, conductor Peter Davis, Martin Cropper, violin, Ivan Linford, organ.
Oakham School Chapel, May 24 2009

Note : Saint Brendan arrives at the Promised Land of the Saints

Saint Brendan arrives at the Promised Land of the Saints

Hear us God, our saviour, our hope throughout all the boundaries of the earth and in the distant sea.

Happy are they that live in your house. They shall praise you from generation to generation.

There before you lies the land which you have sought for a long time. You could not find it immediately because God wanted to show you his varied secrets in the great ocean.

Return, then, to the land of your birth, bringing with you some of the fruit of this land and as many of the precious stones as your boat can carry. The final day of your pilgrimage draws near so that you may sleep with your fathers.

After the passage of many times this land will become known to your successors, when persecution of the Christians shall have come. The river that you see divides the island. Just as this land appears to you ripe with fruit, so shall it remain always without and shadow of night. For its light is Christ.

Hear us God, our saviour, our hope throughout all the boundaries of the earth and in the distant sea.

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: 25’
Dedicated to the Balanescu Quartet
Commissioned by the Balanescu Quartet.
First performance: St Paul's Hall. (Huddersfield, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival) 1 December 1990.

Note : String Quartet no.2 (1990)

String Quartet no.2 (1990)

The second string quartet was written in 1990 commissioned by the Huddersfield Festival and the Balanescu Quartet. By then I had worked with Alex Balanescu a good deal and had come to know members of the quartet personally. At that time the quartet had an interesting international mix of players: Rumanian first violin, American second, English viola and Scottish cello and there are passages which reflect that personal acquaintance, for example the quasi-Scottish lament played at the end by the cello answered by the first violin (Scotland 1 Rumania 1, rewriting football history). At the same time there were devices that I tried in an experimental way, such as the use of the 'bottleneck' to produce an extreme form of portamento to an extended cello melody (playing in unison with the viola) in an extremely high register giving an effect not unlike the sound of the Onde Martinot. There are moments in this quartet unlike anything else I have written, the very fast section for example in which the ensemble play pulsing chords at very high speed and then, little by little, melodies emerge as chords which have previously been played by single notes on the four stringed instruments are changed to double stops thereby freeing individual instruments to play melodic phrases. In a way the second quartet begins where the first quartet ends - with harmonics, though here only artificial ones and with normal tuning - rather like the second episode of a television series ("Previously on Twin Peaks....."). The second quartet is a more relaxed, easy-going piece than the first being less referential and paying closer attention to the ways in which this particular combination of strings can cohere in the diverse pairing of instruments, the use of solo versus accompaniment in surprising ways, in the contrasts between homogeneity and heterogeneity.

Duration c. 25’
Dedication: The Lyric Quartet
First Performance: The Lyric Quartet, The Pump Room, Cheltenham July 15th 1998

Note : String Quartet no.3 (1998)

String Quartet no.3 (1998)

Apart from the 10 5-minute string quartets that I wrote in 1992 as the original version of A Man in a Room, Gambling, where they accompany Juan Muñoz's speaking voice and are therefore not 'pure' quartets, there are 8 years between my second and third quartets (there were only 4 years between the first and second). The third quartet alludes to a number of approaches to chamber music that I have touched on in those intervening years.

Among these is the section at the end of my Cello Concerto where the solo cello is accompanied only by 3 solo instruments (2 violins and a viola) as a reference to the concerto's connection with the music of Haydn, the 'father' of the string quartet. Although, in an academic sense, this reference may appear classical, in the concerto its musical effect is elegiac and even austere coming as it does at the end of long orchestral work. Shortly before the closing section of this quartet, therefore, I use an equivalent sequence of suspensions and resolutions but this time using only two instruments and, unlike in the concerto, the accompanying instruments - and the solo lines - do not remain the same throughout the passage.

Another element which finds its way into the quartet comes from my work with groups from the world of early music, particularly from the experience of writing for a consort of viols, a precursor of the string quartet, and for homogeneous vocal ensembles (the brief allusion to Gesualdo in this piece stems from the "apt for voices or viols" principle which found its way into the world of the madrigal). In several places I ask for little or no vibrato from the strings, occasionally preferring open strings and natural harmonics to stopped notes. In addition there are sections where I concentrate on the purer intervals. This self-imposed constraint is present throughout the work - in one section I only use major harmonies and in another only minor, for example.

Although I use the term 'section' in these notes, in fact the piece is in one continuous movement, played without a break.

I have known the members of the Lyric Quartet for a number of years both personally and professionally and I admire their work both as a quartet and as individual players. My third string quartet is dedicated to the Lyric Quartet and was commissioned by them with funds made available by South West Arts.

Gavin Bryars


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 c. 8’
Instrumentation: Four voices (counter tenor, 2 tenors, baritone)
First Performance: The Orlando Consort, York Early Music Centre, St. Mary’s Church York, April 7th 2000

Note : Super Flumina (2000)

Super Flumina (2000)

for four voices (counter tenor, 2 tenors, baritone)

Commissioned for the Orlanda Consort by the York Early Music Foundation, Super Flumina was written specially for the opening of their new centre. To this end the piece marries the ideas that the Orlando Consort has begun to explore in developing works from 'fragments' of extant musical texts with the context of the piece's first performance. The piece focuses on a legend associated with St. Mary's Abbey in York whereby, in 1377, fishermen brought the lifeless body of a 14 year-old girl, who had fallen into the Ouse, into the chapel. The monks prayed that the Virgin would intercede and had begun to sing the anthem Ave Regina Caelorum when the girl regained consciousness. After a night in the chapel she recovered completely.

The piece does not attempt to tell the story in a literal way, but rather approaches the legend through a series of musical and textual fragments: the hymn Ave Regina Caelorum; the text of the Psalm "By the waters... (Psalm 137, but 136 in the old Latin bible); coincidences of phrases between the various texts, as well as divergences of text within different settings of the same material (for example, Dufay's setting of Ave Regina Caelorum sets substantially different words for the third line).

The piece was written specifically for the Orlando Consort with very particular attention to the tessitura of each voice and to the perceived ways of combining voices in different registers. One of the pleasures of working with early music performers is the intelligence and invention which they bring to the performance of music which has laid dormant or has never been heard before and which often involves decision making of a very high order.  This investigative approach is also something which they bring to the performance of completely new music which, until their intervention, can only remain on the manuscript paper like faint scratches on fading parchment.  

Gavin Bryars

Note : Text of Super Flumina

Text of Super Flumina

Text                                                                        Translation


Ave, Salve, Ave                                                         Hail, Hail, Hail

Salve radix, salve porta,                                            Hail root, hail gate

Salve radix sancta                                                     Hail holy root


Super flumina Babilonis                                             By the waters of Babylon

ibi sedimus et flevimus                                              there we sat down and wept

(salve)                                                                     (Hail)


Super salices in medio eius                                       We hanged our harps on the willows

suspendimus citharas nostra                                     in the midst thereof


Quomodo cantabimus                                               How shall we sing

canticum Domini                                                      the Lord's songs

in terra aliena                                                          in a strange land


Super flumina Eboracis                                            By the waters of York

ibi sedimus et flevimus                                            there we sat down and wept


Super omnes speciosa                                            More beautiful than all others

salve radix, salve porta                                           Hail root, hail gate

salve radix sancta                                                   Hail holy root


Ave regina Caelorum                                               Hail queen of heaven

Ave domina angelorum                                            Hail mistress of the angels

Gaude virgo gloriosa                                                Rejoice, glorious virgin

super omnes speciosa                                              more beautiful than all the others

Vale, O valde decora                                                Fairwell, most fair one


Ave regina Caelorum                                               Hail queen of heaven

Ave domina angelorum                                            Hail mistress of the angels

Salve radix sancta                                                   Hail, holy root

Ex qua mundo lux est orta                                       from whom light sprang over the world


Gaude virgo gloriosa                                               Rejoice, glorious virgin

Super omnes speciosa                                            more beautiful than all others

Vale valde decora                                                   Fairwell, most fair one,

Et pro nobis semper Christum exora.                        and entreat Christ for ever on our behalf.


Amen                                                                    Amen



A short madrigal for seven voices - three sopranos; countertenor; tenor; baritone; bass

Note : Solitude Note

Solitude Note

In 2010 the Akademie Schloss Solitude, near Stuttgart in Germany, celebrated its twentieth anniversary with a series of events and projects.

For the anniversary evening - July 17 - at the Theaterhaus, Stuttgart the festival organizers planned four concerts in four different rooms; each with a different ensemble constellation featuring short compositions by as many former composition fellows as possible. Each composer was asked to follow the rule that each composition should begin and end with the Tristan Chord (B-F, D#-G# or Eb-Ab), thus separating the individual compositions for the listener during the concert.

 The Tristan Chord functions as the connection between the individual contributions.

At the invitation of his good friend Jean-Baptiste Joly (director of the Akademie since its inception) Gavin Bryars wrote an unaccompanied vocal piece, the "Solitude Madrigal", for Neue Vocalsolisten Suttgart


"Nova angeletta" (Petrarch: Rime Sparse 106)


Nova angeletta sovra l'ale accorta

scese dal cielo in su la fresca riva

là 'nd' io passava sol per mio destino.


Poi che senza compagna et senza scrota

mi vide, un laccio che di seta ordiva

tese fra l'erba ond' è verde il camino.


Allor fui preso, et non mi spiacque poi,

si dolce lume uscia degli occhi suoi.


A new little angel on agile wings came down from heaven to the fresh shore where I was walking alone by my destiny.

Since she saw me without companion and without guide, a silken snare which she was making she stretched in the grass wherewith the way is green.

Then I was captured, and it did not displease me later, so sweet a light came from her eyes!

(Translation by Robert M Durling)