A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Duration: c. 14’
Dedication: my wife Anya
Instrumentation: 21 solo strings (11 violins, 4 violas, 4 celli, 2 basses)
First Performance: Primavera Orchestra, directed by Paul Manley, Canterbury December 1st 1999



Radio Play by Gavin Bryars and Blake Morrison, loosely based on the Jules Verne short story "Master Ray Sharp and Miss Me Flat", produced by Judith Kampfner

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Note : #1

The Radio Play

The original story Master Ray Sharp and Miss E Flat is set in the 19th century in a remote Swiss village but this new version is transposed to the present day, and to a location in a remote Scottish island. 

In Verne's Swiss village there is a church taht had an organist who was known far and wide. As the organist gets old and deaf he stops playing and the church organ falls silent. One day, organ music is heard from the church and it transpires that a mysterious Hungarian organist/composer has arrived in the village. We eventually learn that he wishes to develop a new organ registration, the "voix d'enfants". He visits the village school and explains to the assembled children that each child has his or her own note which is peculiar to them and when they sing that note, there is a special resonance in their bones. He gets the children to sing, and makes a note of which pitch is peculiar to them.

There are two children who appear to sing the same note - one boy sings D sharp, and a girl sings E flat. However, he explains, that while these notes appear to be the same, they are arrived at from different directions in the harmonic cycle of fifths. Instead of getting back to the original note when you go round the cycle, there is a slight difference so that E flat and D sharp are not quite the same  - the difference is the "Pythagorean comma"...

The radio play reworks the story and includes music for organ and for children's choir. The music was recorded at Oakham School with the Jerwoods Choir, conducted by Peter Davis, with organist Thomas Chatterton

 

 

 

 

 



Instrumentation: 1 or 2 prepared pianos.
Duration: c.25 minutes
Published in EMC Keyboard Anthology.
First performance: Purcell Room, London, 9 October 197O



Instrumentation: Indeterminate (possible materials include stereo tapes, string ensemble, percussion, low brass, brass quartet, bass clarinet, cassette tapes of speech, keyboard, 35 mm slides, visible sound effects, music box).
Duration: versions of 25’, 35’, or 1 hour (plus)
Published in Soundings 9 (USA).First performance: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London 1972

Note : The Sinking of the Titanic (1969- )

The Sinking of the Titanic (1969- )

This piece originated in a sketch written for an exhibition in support of beleaguered art students at Portsmouth in 1969. Working as I was in an art college environment I was interested to see what might be the musical equivalent of a work of conceptual art. It was not until 1972 that I made a performing version of the piece for part of an evening of my work at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London and during the next three years I performed the piece several times. In 1975 I made a recorded version for the first of the ten records produced for Brian Eno's Obscure label. In 1990 I re-recorded the piece 'live' at the Printemps de Bourges festival when the availability of an extraordinary space - the town's disused water tower dating from the Napoleonic period - and the rediscovery of the wreck by Dr. Ballard made me think again about the music. In any case the piece has always been an open one, being based on data about the disaster but taking account of any new information that came to hand after the initial writing. This version forms the basis for the 1994 recording on Point.

All the materials used in the piece are derived from research and speculations about the sinking of the "unsinkable" luxury liner. On April 14th 1912 the Titanic struck an iceberg at 11.40 PM in the North Atlantic and sank at 2.20 AM on April 15th. Of the 2201 people on board only 711 were to reach New York. The initial starting point for the piece was the reported fact of the band having played a hymn tune in the final moments of the ship's sinking. A number of other features of the disaster which generate musical or sounding performance material, or which 'take the mind to other regions', are also included. The final hymn played during those last 5 minutes of the ship's life was identified in an account by Harold Bride, the junior wireless operator

"...from aft came the tunes of the band.....The ship was gradually turning on her nose - just like a duck that goes down for a dive...  The band was still playing. I guess all of the band went down. They were playing "Autumn" then. I swam with all my might. I suppose I was 150 feet away when the Titanic, on her nose, with her afterquarter sticking straight up in the air, began to settle slowly.... The way the band kept playing was a noble thing...  the last I saw of the band, when I was floating out in the sea with my lifebelt on, it was still on deck playing "Autumn". How they ever did it I cannot imagine."

This Episcopal hymn, then, becomes the principle element of the music and is subject to a variety of treatments and it forms a base over which other material is superimposed. Although I conceived the piece many years ago I continue to enjoy finding new ways of looking at the material in it and welcome opportunities to look at it afresh.



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.



Instrumentation: 1 player, 2 guitars (or multiples of this)
Published in EMC Rhythmic Anthology
First performance: Studio recording Incus Records (Derek Bailey guitars).
First live performance: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, December 1972 (Derek Bailey/ John Tilbury, 2 players 4 guitars).



Ded. Steve Reich at 70
Text: George Bruce
Duration c. 20'
Four voices (S, A T Bar), string quartet, optional improvising turntablist
First performance: Theatre of Voices, dir Paul Hillier, Kronos Quartet, Philip Jeck
Barbican Theatre, November 2006

Note : The Stones of the Arch (2006)

The Stones of the Arch (2006)

for four voices and string quartet

This piece for two quartets - one of voices, one of strings - was commissioned by the Barbican Centre for its festival celebrating Steve Reich's 70th birthday. The instrumentation came about because of the practical concern to use players who were already involved in the festival (who also happened to be known to me personally). The choice of text however, as for any vocal work, was most critical. I decided not to use the Old Testament, which might have been a more obvious source - although I have set various Psalms, lines from Proverbs and parts of Genesis. Instead I chose two poems by the Scottish poet George Bruce, whose work I discovered when setting sonnets by Edwin Morgan.  Here the second poem, The Stones of the Arch written in 2000 when the poet was approaching his ninetieth birthday, is a "reconsideration" of the first, A Gateway to the Sea, from fifty years earlier. It was George Bruce's idea of working on something from the past by creating something new, rather than re-write or edit, that I found particularly attractive, especially as the poems are so different.

In the music I also sought to avoid any direct reference to Steve's work, although there are a couple of figures in the cello that could be seen as allusive, and the piece clearly does involve some repetition. I preferred to acknowledge, rather, the fact that neither Steve nor I are constrained by our past work but, at the same time, are inevitably conditioned by it to some extent. The two poems make up the two parts of the piece, which is played without a break.

There is an optional part for a solo improviser working ideally with simple live electronics. My choice for the first performance was Philip Jeck, who works with  vinyl records on old gramophone turntables and with whom I had worked on a performance of The Sinking of the Titanic in Venice. The improvisation starts before the score proper and overlaps the opening section up to the first vocal entry. Thereafter he is free to play at any time but is more prominent in the interlude between the two poems, and at the end.

The piece is dedicated to Steve Reich.

© Gavin Bryars

Note : A Gateway to the Sea (1)

A Gateway to the Sea (1)

At the East Port, St Andrews

Pause stranger at the porch: nothing beyond

This framing arch of stone, but scattered rocks

And sea and these on the low beach

Original to the cataclysm and the dark.

 

Once one man bent to the stone, another

Dropped the measuring line, a third and fourth

Together lifted and positioned the dressed stone

Making wall and arch; yet others

Settled the iron doors on squawking hinge

To shut without the querulous seas and men.

Order and virtue and love (they say)

Dwelt in the town - but that was long ago.

Then the stranger at the gate, the merchants,

Missioners, the blind beggar with the dog,

The miscellaneous vendors (duly inspected)

Were welcome within the wall that held from sight

The water's brawl. All that was long ago.

Now the iron doors are down to dust,

But the stumps of hinge remain. The arch

Opens to the element - the stones dented

And stained to green and purple and rust.

 

Pigeons settle on the top. Stranger,

On this winter afternoon pause at the porch,

For the dark land beyond stretches

To the unapproachable element; bright

As night falls and with the allurement of peace,

Concealing under the bland feature, possession.

Not all the agitations of the world

Articulate the ultimate question as do these waters

Confining the memorable and the forgotten;

Relics, records, furtive occasions - Caesar's politics

And he who was drunk last night:

Rings, diamants, snuff boxes, warships,

Also the less worthy garments of worthy men.

 

Prefer then this handled stone, now ruined

While the sea mists wind about the arch.

The afternoon dwindles, night concludes,

The stone is damp unyielding to the touch,

But crumbling in the strain and stress

Of the years: the years winding about the arch,

Settling in the holes and crevices, moulding.

The dressed stone. Once one man bent to it,

Another dropped the measuring line, a third

And fourth positioned to make wall and arch

Theirs. Pause stranger at this small town's edge -

The European sun knew those streets

O Jesu parvule; Christus Victus, Christus Victor,

The bells singing from their towers, the waters

Whispering to the waters, the air tolling

To the air - the faith, the faith, the faith.

 

All this was long ago. The lights

Are out, the town is sunk in sleep.

The boats rocking at the pier,

The vague winds beat about the streets -

Choir and altar and chancel are gone.

Under the touch the guardian stone remains

Holding memory, reproving desire, securing hope

In the stop of water, in the lull of night

Before dawn kindles a new day.

 

Note : The Stones of the Arch

The Stones of the Arch

A reconsideration of the poem 'A Gateway to the Sea' (1950)

 

Once, I thought, once these stones are named,

cut, dressed given their place, one upon one

to form the arch of grey sandstone (now sable)

that they had entered into a compact with man -

they were on our side, accomplices in our order

accepting the verdict of human history,

as if they never were what once they had been,

nor would return to that incomprehensible no-time,

whose time we cannot tell or keep, nor measure

by the pulse. It is pretence to count light years.

Without consciousness they make no light,

no sound in their passage. Words cannot reach them.

Whose Word is theirs? What logic do they promulgate?

When all the words are burst and the silver stars

are stones and the stones dissolve to dust,

as is our dissolution, and we have no time to keep

and the knowledge to which we should aspire,

abdicating the self, is that we know nothing.

The stone face of this arch deceives.

It does not belong to us. It belongs

to the wildness of the air and water,

to that other where there is no word for love.

Let us then unlabel these stones.

Let the sea swallow them.

Let them be with that other universe

where no time is kept.

In the transparent moment of unknowing

will we be entered by the other,

or will the other receive us?

George Bruce



Text: Edwin Morgan
Duration: c. 6'
Male Choir
First performance Estonia Symphony Hall, Tallinn January 30 2008
Estonian National Male Choir, conductor Kaspars Putnins

Note : The Summons

The Summons

The year was ending, and the land lay still.

Despite our countdown, we were loath to go,

kept padding along the ridge, the broad glow

of the city beneath us, and the hill

swirling with a little mist. Stars were right,

plans, power; only now this unforeseen

reluctance, like a slate we could not clean

of characters, yet could not read, or write

our answers on, or smash, or take with us.

Not a hedgehog stirred. We sighed, climbed in, locked.

If it was love we felt, would it not keep,

and travel where we travelled? Without fuss

we lifted off, but as we checked and talked

a far horn grew to break that people's sleep.

 

Edwin Morgan (from Sonnets from Scotland)



Strings (solo violin, 4 violas, 4 celli, 2 basses)
Duration c. 27'
For the ballet by David Dawson
First performance: National Ballet Flanders, Antwerp, January 12 2010
Conductor, Benjamin Pope

Note : The Third Light(2010)

The Third Light(2010)

Production Photo: Royal Ballet of Flanders

Choreographer: David Dawson

 



Duration 10’
Instrumentation: 1 or 2 pianos, 2 vibes or 1 vibes and 1 marimba or bass marimba/bells, optional steel drums/sizzle cymbal, optional bass clarinet.
First performance: Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris (Paris Biennale), 25 October 1980.



New piece for the Hilliard Ensemble and the strings of the Norwegian Chamnber Orchestra - performances December 10 and 11 2012, Oslo.

Note : The Voice of St Columba

The Voice of St Columba

Over the last few years I have written a number of works using texts and subject matter from old northern sources. These have included settings of 10th century Icelandic poetry (From Egil's Saga), traditional and saga texts in Faroese (Tróndur í Gøtu) and 7th century Irish voyager saints (St Brendan arrives at the Promised Land of the Saints). For this new work for the Hilliard Ensemble, with the strings of the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, I have set two very beautiful texts from St Columba, both of which deal with the power of the human voice. The first part "Colum's Voice" describes the extraordinary physical and magical power of his voice, and the second "On Hinba" its revelatory qualities. The idea of using texts that deal with the human voice was, of course, suggested in part by my association with the Hilliard Ensemble, with whom I first worked almost 25 years ago, but also because of my friendship with the Scandinavian Trio Mediaeval, one of whose members, the Swedish soprano Anna Maria Friman, sings with my ensemble and whose two other members are Norwegian. The piece is in two parts, following the texts, and each section has introductory material for the string orchestra. Although there is some divisi within the string writing, it is essentially quite simple in order not to take attention away from the clarity and directness of the texts.

The piece is dedicated to the Norwegian singer Torunn Østrem Ossun.

 

The Voice of Saint Columba

 

I Colum's Voice

 

The voice of the venerable man

when he sang in the church with his brothers

was heard half a mile away

and sometimes a mile away

And yet, strangely, when he spoke to those who stood with him in church

his voice was not uncommonly loud

and yet those who stood a mile away

could make out every word.

This miracle of the blessed man's voice

happened only rarely and could not have happened without the grace of the Divine Spirit.

It is told that once outside the fortress of a king

the saint began to celebrate with a few brothers and according to custom

the praises of God

Certain magicians came close to them

and tried to prevent the singing

lest the sound of divine praise be heard by heathen ears.

Understanding this, the saint began to sing: "We have heard with our ears, O God,

Our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old,

How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand..."

and in the same moment his voice was raised in the air

like a terrible peal of thunder

that the king and his people were filled with dread

 

II On Hinba

 

At another time when the holy man was on Hinba

the grace of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon him

abundantly and incomparably

and continued marvellously for the space of three days

so that for three days and as many nights

barred in a house filled with light

he allowed no one to go near him

and he neither ate nor drank

From the house beams of immeasurable brightness were seen in the night

escaping through chinks in the door-leaves and latches

And the watchers heard spiritual songs that were being sung

unknown to any.

He afterwards admitted to a few men

that he had seen, openly revealed

things that have been hidden since the beginning of the world

and that light was shone on the darkest places of the scriptures

and shown more clearly than the day to the eyes of his purest heart.

 

Trans. Brian Morton

 

 

 



Text: from Genesis A (7th Century Anglo-Saxon); Joe Chaikin/ Sam Shepard
Duration: 45’
Dedication: Peter Falk
Instrumentation: Soprano solo, Alto solo, Half Chorus, Chorus, Orchestra:
3(picc), 2 (CA), 2 + Bs.cl., 1 + Contra;
4, 2 (flugel), 3,1;
harp
percussion (3 players, see Percussion Note below for details)
Strings
First Performance: Royal Festival Hall, London, April 29th 1993

Note : Percussion for The War in Heaven (1993)

Percussion for The War in Heaven (1993)

2 Tam-Tams, 3 suspended cymbals, 2 sets tubular bells (large diameter pipes), 3 snare drums, 2 glockenspiel, vibraphone, 1 set 2-octave crotales, Bass drum.

NB. all players need bass bows.

(3 Players NB. these are in a specific "stereo" layout - left, right and centre of orchestra)

Note : The War in Heaven

The War in Heaven

The War in Heaven is a large-scale cantata for 2 solo voices (soprano and male alto), half chorus (BBC Singers), full chorus and orchestra. There are two different texts: one for the chorus and one for the soloists. The choral text is the opening section of the Old English (approximately 7th century) paraphrase of the first books of the Bible usually called Genesis A. I came across this when I set Caedmon's Creation Hymn - in 7th century Northumbrian, as part of the Cadman Requiem, written for the Hilliard Ensemble in 1989 and at least parts of Genesis A are probably also by Caedmon. What interested me about this vernacular poetry was that the opening lines of the Bible as we know it occur from line 113 onwards of Genesis A. I use lines 12 to 112 (plus one phrase from line 1) i.e. those lines that precede the Bible proper, a section usually referred to as "The War in Heaven" which deals with the Fall of the rebellious angels.

The solo voices sing, in 20th century English, a setting of a monologue that the American writer Sam Shepard wrote for Joe Chaikin. I had been very moved by the two performances of this piece that Joe Chaikin gave in the Leicester Haymarket's Studio Theatre in 1987, directed by my friend Simon Usher, during the period that I too worked there. This also deals with a fallen angel, but in a very different way, and it was the coincidence of its title, The War in Heaven, that gave me the idea of putting the two pieces together.

Apart from the opening and one unaccompanied section for chorus and half-chorus, the choir sings simultaneously with the solo voices and almost always in the original Anglo-Saxon of Genesis A, but occasionally they have a few words in contemporary English. Equally, on one occasion, the solo voices sing a short phrase in Anglo-Saxon.

The two solo voices are used in a variety of ways. Sometimes they have separate solo sections, sometimes they singing together in duets, sometimes they sing alternating lines or individual phrases, and in one part, sing alternative verses - rather like newsreaders on American television - in the only purely narrative part of the cantata where they describe the ultimately fruitless search for a "great man's" soul after his death. I chose these two solo voices (soprano and male alto) and specifically Sarah Leonard and David James because, on the one hand, I had worked with them several times in the past (both as individuals and within the context of the Hilliard Ensemble) and on the other hand because I wanted above all singers capable of singing with great purity. They each have voices of extraordinary beauty and power, and, as musicians, they are committed to music from all periods : from Early Music to music of our own day.

The orchestra is large though not enormous. The three percussionists, who play mostly tuned percussion instruments, are intended to be placed in a wide stereo perspective across the width of the orchestra (left, centre and right) and there are some instruments which are found in more than one location (there are Tam-Tams to the left and in the centre, marimbas on the right and the left, bells and glockenspiel at each side, and snare drums and suspended cymbals in each location).

The texts fall into a number of sections, dealing with different aspects of the narrative or emotional situation. However, the music is continuous and is not divided into separate movements, sections being delineated either by a change of atmosphere or by being collaged on top of each other. In spite of the apparently apocalyptic tone of the title, and the implications of the Anglo-Saxon text, the piece is not a religious one but focuses rather on the reflective humanism and ironies of the American text. The 'angelic fall' that is closest in character perhaps to this work is that found in Wim Wenders' film Wings of Desire, and especially in the part played by Peter Falk, to whom this piece is dedicated.

Gavin Bryars

1993

The War in Heaven

Text: from Genesis A (7th Century Anglo-Saxon); Joe Chaikin/ Sam Shepard

Duration: 45'

Dedication: Peter Falk

Instrumentation: Soprano solo, Alto solo, Half Chorus, Chorus, Orchestra:

3(picc), 2 (CA), 2 + Bs.cl., 1 + Contra;

4, 2 (flugel), 3,1;

harp

percussion (3 players, see Percussion for details)

Strings

First Performance: Royal Festival Hall, London, April 29th 1993

 

(in Percussion)

The War in Heaven (1993)

2 Tam-Tams, 3 suspended cymbals, 2 sets tubulars bells (large diameter pipes), 3 snare drums, 2 glockenspiel, vibraphone, 1 set 2-octave crotales, Bass drum.

nb. all players need bass bows.

(3 Players nb.these are in a specific "stereo" layout - left, right and centre of orchestra)



Text: Jules Verne ( from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea)
Duration: 16’30”
Dedicated to Delphine Seyrig.
Commissioned by Nicola Walker Smith.
Instrumentation:  Low mezzo-soprano voice, electronics, digital tape (realised at Autograph Studios, London).
First performance: Nettlefold Festival, London September 21st 1991.
Instrumentation (ii) low contralto voice, 2 violins, viola, cello, 2 double basses, 2 percussion, electric keyboard.
First performance: Amphitheatre Opera-Bastille, Paris December 9th 1992

Note : The White Lodge

The White Lodge

The White Lodge, originally for voice and electronics also exists in a version arranged for low contralto voice and string sextet (2 violins, viola, cello, 2 basses) It was written in 1991 to be recorded by the mezzo soprano Nicola Walker Smith and is dedicated to Delphine Seyrig.

I met Delphine for the first time when we worked together on Robert Wilson's The CIVIL WarS and found ourselves rehearsing and sketching the piece in the Monastère de la Sainte Baume near Marseilles in the bitter winter of early 1984. We became close friends and always sat together at lunch and dinner, where she tried to dissuade me from my developing vegetarianism while relishing the opportunity to speak in her impeccable English with the only non-American English speaker in the ensemble. She had previously come across my work through recordings which her son Duncan possessed and one of these, Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet, offered some solace during her mother's last illness, which had caused her to leave the monastery prematurely. We continued to see each other over the years. I was particularly touched on two occasions: first when she and Coralie dashed in a taxi, still wearing their make-up, from a matinée performance of Letters Home to the final performance of the Bryars/Wilson Medea at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées; and second when Sami Frey was using my music for his stunning version of Je Me Souviens and we had a late afternoon drink together  in Avignon just before she dashed off to, I think, Ulan Bator to complete some filming. I was immensely saddened by her death and the least I could do was to write something in her memory.

The White Lodge is one of three pieces I wrote that year which have a common source in the work of Jules Verne. Two of these use texts from Vingt Mille Lieues Sous La Mer. In the case of The White Lodge this is a passage which describes the transformation of the night sea to a milky white colour through the presence of countless tiny sea creatures. I share with Roussel and Queneau an unqualified admiration for Verne: as Queneau said "What a style! Nothing but nouns!"

'The White Lodge' in David Lynch's Twin Peaks, like the phenomenon described by Professor Aronnax, is a place encountered only by those who have acquired the means to locate it.

Note : Text of The White Lodge

Text of The White Lodge

The White Lodge is one of three pieces I wrote that year which have a common source in the work of Jules Verne. Two of these use texts from Vingt Mille Lieues Sous La Mer. In the case of The White Lodge this is a passage which describes the transformation of the night sea to a milky white colour through the presence of countless tiny sea creatures.

 

Text (Vingt Mille Lieues Sous La Mer - deuxième partie)

Vers sept heures du soir, le Nautilus à demi immergé navigua au milieu d'une mer de lait. À perte de vue l'océan semblait être lactifié. Était-ce l'effet des rayons lunaires? Non, car la lune, ayant deux jours à peine, était encore perdue au dessous de l'horizon dans les rayons du soleil. Tout le ciel, quoique éclairé par le rayonnement sidéral, semblait noir par contraste avec la blancheur des eaux. "C'est ce qu'on appelle une mer de lait - vaste étendue de flots blancs quie se voit fréquemment sur les côtes d'Amboine et dans ces parages...Cette blancheur n'est due qu'à la présence de myriades de bestioles infusoires, sorts de petits vers lumineaux, d'un aspect gélatineux et incolore, de l'épaisseur d'un cheveu, et dont la longueur ne dépasse pas un cinquième de millimètre. Quelques-unes de ces bestioles adhèrent entre elles pendant l'espace de plusieurs lieues"...

Pendant plusieurs heures le Nautilus trancha de son éperon ces flots blanchâtres, et je remarquai qu'il glissait sans bruit sur cette eau savonneuse, comme s'il eut flotté dans ces remous d'écume que les courants et les contre-courants des baies laissaient quelquefois entre eux. Ver minuit, la mer reprit subitement sa teinte ordinaire mais, derrière nous, jusqu'aux limites de l'horizon, le ciel, réfléchissant la blancheur des flots, sembla longtemps impregné de vagues lueurs d'une aurore boréale.


Gavin Bryars



For soprano, tenor, bass and lute
Duration c. 25’
Text: Petrarch, translated by J. M. Synge
1-9 commissioned by Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and performed there by Red Byrd November 27th 2003

Note : Third Book of Madrigals (published ED 12787)

Third Book of Madrigals (published ED 12787)

1. Laura being dead, Petrarch finds trouble in all the things of the earth (STB and lute)

2. He asks his heart to raise itself up to God (STB and lute)

3. He wishes he might die and follow Laura (STB and lute)

4. Laura is ever present to him (STB and lute)

5. He considers that he should set little store on earthly beauty (STB and lute)

6. He recalls his visions of her (STB and lute)

7. He finds comfort and rest in his sorrows (STB and lute)

8. He ceases to speak of her graces and her virtues which are no more (STB and lute)

9. He considers the reasons for his verses (STB and lute)

10. He is jealous of the heaven's and the earth (STB and lute)

11. The fine time of the year increases Petrarch's sorrow (STB and lute)

12. He understands the great cruelty of death (Tenor Solo)

13. The sight of Laura's house reminds him of the great happiness he has lost. (STB and lute)

14. He sends his rhymes to the tomb of Laura to pray her to call him to her. (STB and lute)

15. Only he who mourns her and Heaven that possesses her knew her while she lived (STB and lute)

16. Petrarch is unable to contain his grief (STB and lute)

17. Laura waits for him in heaven (STB and lute)

Note : Third Book of Madrigals (2003)

Third Book of Madrigals (2003)

For soprano, tenor, bass and lute

 

Like the Second Book of Madrigals, the Third Book 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 hourS"

 

There are seventeen madrigals altogether - nine have been commissioned by

the Huddersfield Festival of Contemporary Music - and are written for Red

Byrd: soprano, tenor, bass and lute. Ten are for the full complement of

voices, three are duets for soprano and tenor, two are duets for tenor and

bass and two are for tenor solo. Three of the three-part madrigals (numbers

5, 10 and 15) are unaccompanied and there is a lute prologue and epilogue.

 

I have worked with all three singers in various contexts over the years,

indeed Anna Maria Friman is a member of my own ensemble and I regularly

write unaccompanied solo Lauda for her. Tenor John Potter has been involved

with all three books of madrigals: with the Hilliard Ensemble for book one,

with the Trio Mediaeval Sextet and Yorvox for book two, and here with Red

Byrd for book three. He has also been a constant source of inspired

scholarship and friendly, though practical, advice throughout the time that

I have been writing madrigals.

 

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.

 

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. The ones performed here are:

 

1. Laura being dead, Petrarch finds trouble in all things of the earth (tutti)

2. He asks his heart to raise itself up to God (soprano/ tenor)

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

4. Laura is ever present to him (tutti)

5. He considers that he should set little store on earthly beauty (tutti, unaccompanied)

6. He recalls his visions of her (tutti)

7. He finds comfort and rest in his sorrows (soprano/ tenor)

8. He ceases to speak of her graces and her virtues which are no more (tutti)

9. He considers the reasons for his verses (tutti)

 

Gavin Bryars

Note : Text of Third Book of Madrigals

Text of Third Book of Madrigals

1. Laura being dead, Petrarch finds trouble in all the things of the earth

Life is flying from me, not stopping an hour, and Death is making great strides following my track.  The days about me and the days passed over me, are bringing me desolation, and the days to come will be the same surely.

All things that I am bearing in mind, and all things I am dread of, are keeping me in troubles, in this way one time, in that way another time, so that if I wasn't taking pity on my own self it's long ago I'd have given up my life.

If my dark heart has any sweet thing it is turned away from me, and then farther off I see the great winds where I must be sailing.  I see my good luck far away in the harbour, but my steersman is tired out, and the masts and the ropes on them are broken, and the beautiful lights where I would be always looking are quenched.

 

2. 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.

 

3. 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!

  

4. Laura is ever present to him

If the birds are making lamentation, or the green banks are moved by a little wind of summer, or you can hear the waters making a stir by the shores that are green and flowery.

That's where I do be stretched out thinking of love, writing my songs, and herself that Heaven shows me though hidden in the earth I set my eyes on, and hear the way that she feels my sighs and makes an answer to me.

'Alas,' I hear her say, 'why are you using yourself up before the time is come, and pouring out a stream of tears so sad and doleful?

'You'd do right to be glad rather, for in dying I won days that have no ending, and when you saw me shutting up my eyes I was opening them on the light that is eternal.'

 

5. 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.

 

6. He recalls his visions of her

How many times, running away from all people and from myself if I was able, I go out to my little nook, with my two eyes crying tears on my breast and on the grass under me, and breaking the air with the great sighs I do be giving.

How many times, and I heavy with sorrow, I have stretched out in shady places and woods, seeking always in my thoughts for herself that death has taken from me, and calling out to her one time and again that she might come.  Then in some form of a high goddess I see her rising up out of the clearest pool of the Sorga, my sweet river, and putting herself to sit upon the bank.

Or other days I have seen her on the fresh grass and she picking flowers like a living lady, yet showing me in her look she has a pity for myself.

 

7. 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.

 

8. He ceases to speak of her graces and her virtues which are no more

The eyes that I would be talking of so warmly, and the arms, and the hands, and the feet, and the face, that are after calling me away from myself and making me a lonesome man among all people.

The hair that was of shining gold, and brightness of the smile that was the like of an angel's surely, and was making a paradise of the earth, are turned to a little dust that knows nothing at all.

And yet I myself am living; it is for this I am making a complaint, to be left without the light I had such a great love for, in good fortune and bad, and this will be the end of my songs of love, for the vein where I had cleverness is dried up, and everything I have is turned to complaint only.

 

9. He considers the reasons for his verses

If I had thought that the voice of my grief would have a value I would have made a greater number surely of my first sorrow and in a finer manner: but she who made me speak them out and who stood in the summit of my thoughts is dead at this time, and I am not able to make these rough verses sweet or clear.

And in surety those times all I was wishing was to ease my sad heart in any way I was able and not to gain an honour for myself, and it was weep I was seeking and not the honour men might win of it, and now it is the one pleasure I am seeking that she would call to me and I silent and tired out.

 

10. 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.

 

11. The fine time of the year increases Petrarch's sorrow

The south wind is coming back, bringing the fine season, and the flowers, and the grass, her sweet family, along with her. The swallow and the nightingale are making a stir, and the spring is turning white and red in every place.

            There is a cheerful look on the meadows, and peace in the sky, and the sun is well pleased, I'm thinking, looking downward, and the air and the waters and the earth herself are full of love, and every beast is turning back looking for its mate.

            And what a coming to me is great sighing and trouble, which herself is drawing out of my deep heart, herself that has taken the key of it up to Heaven.

            And it is this way I am, that the singing birds, and the flowers of the earth, and the sweet ladies, with the grace and comeliness, are the like of a desert to me, and wild beasts astray in it.

 

12. 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.

 

13. The sight of Laura's house reminds him of the great happiness he has lost (tenor solo)

Is this nest in which my Phoenix put on her feathers of gold and purple, my Phoenix that did hold me under her wing and she drawing out sweet words and sighs from me? Oh, root of my sweet misery, where is that beautiful face, where light would be shining out, the face that did keep my heart like a flame burning? She was without a match upon the earth, I hear them say, and now she is happy in the Heavens.

            And she has left me after her dejected and lonesome, turning back all times to the place I do be making much of for her sake only, and I seeing the night on the little hills where she took her last flight up into the Heavens, and where one time her eyes would make sunshine and it night itself.

 

14. He sends his rhymes to the tomb of Laura to pray her to call him to her (tenor solo)

Let you go down, sorrowful rhymes, to the hard rock is covering my dear treasure, and then let you call out till herself that is in the heavens will make answer, though her dead body is lying in a shady place.

            Let you say to her that it is tired out I am with being alive, with steering in bad seas, but I am going after her step by step, gathering up what she let fall behind her.

            It is of her only I do be thinking, and she living and dead, and now I have made her with my songs so that the whole world may know her, and give her the love that is her due.

            May it please her to be ready for my own passage that is getting near: may she be there to meet me, herself in the Heavens, that she may call me, and draw me after her.

 

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

Ah, Death, it is you that have left the world cold and shady, with no sun over it. It's you have left Love without eyes or arms to him, you've left liveliness stripped, and beauty without a shape to her, and all courtesy in chains, and honesty thrown down into a hole. I am making lamentation alone, though it isn't myself only has a cause to be crying out; since you, Death, have crushed the first seed of goodness in the whole world, and with it gone what place will we find a second?

            The air and the earth and the seas would have a good right to be crying out - and they pitying the race of men that is left without herself, like a meadow without flowers, or a ring robbed of jewellery.

            The world didn't know her the time she was in it, but I myself knew her - and I left now to be weeping in this place; and the Heavens knew her, the Heavens that are giving an ear this day to my crying out.

 

16. 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.

 

17. 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)

 

 

 

 

 



For soprano, tenor, bass and lute

Note : Text of Third Book of Madrigals nos. 10-17

Text of Third Book of Madrigals nos. 10-17

10. 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.

 

11. The fine time of the year increases Petrarch's sorrow

The south wind is coming back, bringing the fine season, and the flowers, and the grass, her sweet family, along with her. The swallow and the nightingale are making a stir, and the spring is turning white and red in every place.

            There is a cheerful look on the meadows, and peace in the sky, and the sun is well pleased, I'm thinking, looking downward, and the air and the waters and the earth herself are full of love, and every beast is turning back looking for its mate.

            And what a coming to me is great sighing and trouble, which herself is drawing out of my deep heart, herself that has taken the key of it up to Heaven.

            And it is this way I am, that the singing birds, and the flowers of the earth, and the sweet ladies, with the grace and comeliness, are the like of a desert to me, and wild beasts astray in it.

 

12. 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.

 

13. The sight of Laura's house reminds him of the great happiness he has lost (tenor solo)

Is this nest in which my Phoenix put on her feathers of gold and purple, my Phoenix that did hold me under her wing and she drawing out sweet words and sighs from me? Oh, root of my sweet misery, where is that beautiful face, where light would be shining out, the face that did keep my heart like a flame burning? She was without a match upon the earth, I hear them say, and now she is happy in the Heavens.

            And she has left me after her dejected and lonesome, turning back all times to the place I do be making much of for her sake only, and I seeing the night on the little hills where she took her last flight up into the Heavens, and where one time her eyes would make sunshine and it night itself.

 

14. He sends his rhymes to the tomb of Laura to pray her to call him to her (tenor solo)

Let you go down, sorrowful rhymes, to the hard rock is covering my dear treasure, and then let you call out till herself that is in the heavens will make answer, though her dead body is lying in a shady place.

            Let you say to her that it is tired out I am with being alive, with steering in bad seas, but I am going after her step by step, gathering up what she let fall behind her.

            It is of her only I do be thinking, and she living and dead, and now I have made her with my songs so that the whole world may know her, and give her the love that is her due.

            May it please her to be ready for my own passage that is getting near: may she be there to meet me, herself in the Heavens, that she may call me, and draw me after her.

 

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

Ah, Death, it is you that have left the world cold and shady, with no sun over it. It's you have left Love without eyes or arms to him, you've left liveliness stripped, and beauty without a shape to her, and all courtesy in chains, and honesty thrown down into a hole. I am making lamentation alone, though it isn't myself only has a cause to be crying out; since you, Death, have crushed the first seed of goodness in the whole world, and with it gone what place will we find a second?

            The air and the earth and the seas would have a good right to be crying out - and they pitying the race of men that is left without herself, like a meadow without flowers, or a ring robbed of jewellery.

            The world didn't know her the time she was in it, but I myself knew her - and I left now to be weeping in this place; and the Heavens knew her, the Heavens that are giving an ear this day to my crying out.

 

16. 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.

 

17. 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)



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

 



Text: Cecco Angiolieri
Duration: 12'
Dedication: The Corte Sconta, Venezia
First Performance: Members of the Hilliard Early Music Summer School, Emannuel Reformed Church, Cambridge August 2nd 1997

Note : Three Poems of Cecco Angiolieri (1997)

Three Poems of Cecco Angiolieri (1997)

As my contribution to the Hilliard Ensemble's Summer School, for which I was composer-in-residence, I wrote two works for the entire group of tutors and students: this work, which lasts about 12 minutes, as well as And So Ended Kant's Travelling In This World. The students were in small vocal groups, most of them already established in their respective countries, and I resolved not to write anything until I arrived in Cambridge and had heard each of the groups. There were 9 student groups, plus the five vocal tutors (John Potter, Rogers Covey Crump and Gordon Jones from the Hilliard Ensemble, plus Linda Hirst and Richard Wistreich) giving effectively 10 groups, totalling 49 solo voices. I had spent the time prior to the course in Venice on holiday with my daughters, where I also gave active thought to what kinds of texts I might use for the singers. One night, at the end of dinner at the Corte Sconta, whose owners are close friends of the Italian friends who took us there, there was a strange and dramatic performance of an old Italian poem. Claudio, the owner of the restaurant, declaimed the first line of the poem and my friend Gianfranco called back the responsory line. I learned that the poet was Cecco Angiolieri, whom I did not know, and I eventually found some of his poems, (which occupied 5 pages of a very large book on early Italian poetry located in the University Bookshop) including the one I had heard the previous evening. The poem that I had heard comprised 10 sentences beginning "S'i' fosse..." followed by responses. I wrote one for each of the nine groups, where the whole ensemble would sing the first line, and a solo group would sing the response. The music for each group attemtped to capture something of their character - a six-part Austrian group, for example, being given something alluding to Brahms (whom they love, and I loathe!). The last sentence was given to everyone. This poem was to be the second of the three poems which I set.

To the 5-part tutorial group I gave a short and poignant text that I had found on a grave in the Protestant section of the San Michele cemetery and which served to punctuate the verses and to form a coda. For the first poem, I used the singers in different combinations of pairs of groups. For the last poem the setting is more traditionally choral, though in 7 parts (sopranos I, sopranos II, altos, tenors I, tenors II, baritones, basses), with the 5-part tutorial group separate from them. In view of the circumstances of its performance and the time available this was perhaps not the easiest kind of piece to have produced...

The piece is dedicated to the Corte Sconta

Note : Text of Three Poems of Cecco Angiolieri (1997)

Text of Three Poems of Cecco Angiolieri (1997)

1. La mia malinconia....

La mia malinconia è tanta e tale,

ch'i non discredo che, s'egli 'l sapesse

un che mi fosse nemico mortale,

che di me di pieta (de) non piangesse.

 

Quella, per cu' m'avèn, poco ne cale;

ché mi potrebbe, sed ella volesse,

guarir 'n un punto, di tutto 'l mie male,

sed ella pur "I t'odio" mi dicesse.

 

Ma quest' è la risposta c'ho da lei:

ched ella non mi vòl né mal né bene,

e ched i'vad' a far li fatti meiei;

 

ch'ella non cura s'i' ho gioi' o pene,

men ch'una paglia che le va tra' piei;

mal grado n'abbi Amor, ch'a le' mi diéne.

 

(Translation)

 

My melancholy is such and so great

that I am certain that, if he knew of it,

one who was my mortal enemy

would weep for pity of me.

 

It matters not to her, whether she has me;

what good would it do me, if she wished it,

to be cured in a moment of all my troubles,

if her only word for me was "I hate you"?

 

But this is the answer I have from her:

that she wishes me neither good nor ill,

and wishes I would go my own way;

 

that she cares less whether I have joy or pain,

than a straw which goes between her feet;

may Love be cursed, who gave me to her.

 

2. S'i' fosse foco....

S'i' fosse foco, ardare' 'l mondo;

s'i' fosse vento, lo tempestarei;

s'i' fosse acqua, I' l'annegarei;

s'i' fosse Dio, mandereil' en profondo;

 

s'i' fosse papa, sare' allor giocondo,

ché tutti cristiani embrigarei;

s'i' fosse 'mperator, sa' che farei?

a tutti mozzarei lo capo a tondo.

 

S'i' fosse morte, andarei a me' padre;

s'i' fosse vita, fuggirei da lui;

similemente faria da mi' madre.

 

S'i' fosse Cecco, com' I' sono e fui,

torrei le donne givani e leggiadre;

le zoppe e laide lasserei altrui.

 

(Translation)

 

If I were fire, I would burn the world;

if I were wind, I would bestorm it;

if I were water, I would drown it;

if I were God, I would hurl it into the deep;

 

If I were Pope, I would be happy,

as I would harry all Christians;

if I were emperor, do you know what I would do?

I would chop off the heads of the lot of them.

 

If I were death, I would go to my father;

if I were life, I would run from him,

and I would do the same for my mother.

 

If I were Cecco, as I am and have been,

I would take for myself all the young and pretty women,

and leave the lame and ugly for others.

 

3. La stremità....

La stremità mi richer per figliuolo,

ed 'I' l'appelo ben per madre mia;

e 'ngenerato fu' dal fitto duolo,

e la mia balia fu malinconia,

 

e le mie fasce si fûr d'un lenzuolo,

che volgarmente ha nome ricadìa;

da la cima del capo 'nfin al suolo

cosa non regna 'n me che bona sia.

 

Po', quando I' fu' cresciuto, mi fu dato

per mia ristorazion moglie che garre

da anzi di 'nfin al cielo stellato;

 

e 'l su' garrir paion mille chitarre:

a cu' la moglie muor, ben è lavato,

se la ripiglia, più che non è 'l farre.

 

(translation)

 

I claim misery as my child,

and I call it my mother too;

I was conceived out of heavy grief,

and my wet-nurse was melancholy,

 

and my swaddling clothes were a sheet

whose common name is trouble;

from the top of my head to the soles of my feet

there was nothing in me that could be called good.

 

Then, when I was grown, a wife was given to me

for my refreshment; she talked

from the early morning until the sky was full of stars;

 

and her talking was like a thousand guitars:

when such a wife dies, if her husband remarries

he has no more brains than a boat of gravy.*

 

"O Venezia benedetta no ti vogio più lasciar"

(Epigram on grave of Thomas McAndrew, San Michele)

 

* This last line is not a strict translation but rather includes an affectionate anagrammatical allusion to Gavin Bryars, noted by the translators Selene Mills, Richard Wistreich and Massimiliano Pascucci.



Duration: 35’
Instrumentation: 2 pianos, marimba, 2 vibes, bells, cymbal, clarinet, tenor horn, strings.
First performance: Secession Hall, Vienna, 22 May 1983.



theatre work for Von Krahl Theatre, Tallinn
Duration 60’
Directed by Peeter Jalakas
soprano voice, horn, bass clarinet, kantele, percussion, 2 violins, viola, cello bass
Soprano Kady Plaas, NYYD Ensemble directed by Olari Elts
First performance Tallinn April 9th 2007



Instrumentation: Electronics
Published in EMC Visual Anthology.
Imperfect private performance, Portsmouth College of Art, November 1970