Listening to a Gavin Bryars's work is traveling and
the pleasure you get from it is like the pleasure of first reading Jules Verne ,
Dumas or Borgès. Slow narration suffused with litterature and painting (one
understands his attachment for Erik Satie or John Cage), Gavin Bryars's works
are not music for music's sake but a pictorial journey along the channels of
memory and imagination. Here are neither chords nor harmonic relations but
settings, landscapes, densities where sonorities flow along the Ariadne's thread
woven by the composer to express the continuity and fluidity of thought.
modern musician born of jazz, Gavin Bryars has always been interested in
saxophone. This instrument - wich has gained a unique place in the jazz world -
has always been injustly disregarded by classical music. Listening to the three
jewels, Allegrasco, Alaric I or II and Three Elegies, one can but
regret this void and hope that saxophone will take its due place in the
contemporary repertoire at last. Wich instrument could have this lyrical
intensity and this mysterious hue in Allegrasco? Wich instruments -
better than this full-strength saxophone family (from contrabasso to sopranino)
- could make us float in the astonishing sonorous hazes of Three Elegies
On this CD - wich is a true ode to the saxophone by the only contemporary poet of slowness - Gavin Bryars delivers a forthcoming pacified music in wich the passions of gone-by centuries have given place to contemplation. Put this record on your Hifi stereo, close your eyes and trice sails up your Earth vessel for an endless journey in an expanding universe; in your seaway, some note dust - memories of stars cruising towards eternity.
Allegrasco was written in response to a commission from Jan Steele for a concert piece for soprano saxophone and piano, with funds made available by West Midlands Arts. Later, Roger Heaton premiered the version for clarinet and piano and the piece has been modified as an ensemble piece, featuring the solo clarinette. One of the models for the piece is Busoni's Elegie, a work that I admire enormously. Just as the Busoni piece is a 'Satellite' work to the opera Doktor Faust, written in advance of the opera, so Allegrasco has a similar relation to Medea. Allegrasco was written between the cancellation of the planned first performance of Medea at La Fenice in Venice and its eventual premières in Lyon and Paris in 1984. There re other associations too, not least of which was the saxophone's Franco-Belgian origin, and also its use in jazz. The title, originally only a performance instruction (like 'adagio', 'allegro'), refers to the style of clarinet playing viz that of Edmondo Allegra, the dedicatee of both Busoni's works for solo clarinet and hence, one imagines the person best able, for Busoni, to play the pieces in the spirit in which they were written.
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 1 have added material for electric guitar and two percussion.
Three Elegies for Nine Clarinets was first performed by Roger Heaton at the Townsgate Theatre, Basildon 3 May 1994.
Alaric 1 or Il
This saxophone quartet is scored for two soprano saxophones, plus alto and baritone, rather than the more common SATB, to mirror the instrumentation and pitch ranges of the more familiar string quartet. I have been interested in the saxophone as a concert instrument for some time and had, of course, known the jazz répertoire fairly well from the time when 1 worked as a jazz musician in the early 1960's. Indeed, in my first opera Medea I included two saxophones (soprano doubling alto, and alto doubling tenor) in the orchestra both to replace oboes and at the same time to reinforce the chorus. I have always enjoyed Percy Grainger's views on orchestration and his thinking about the saxophone is particularly illuminating (he made transcriptions and arrangements of early music for the saxophone, for example, finding the instrument's tone quality, especially in ensemble, as a modern équivalent of the sound of medieval instruments). Alaric 1 or Il was written during the summer of 1989 when I had no access to any instrument or recording equipment and so the musical references which I wanted to include were done, imperfectly, from memory. These included parts of my second opera Doctor Ox's Experiment (then only existing in sketch form), the work of the Argentinean bandonéon player Dino Saluzzi and so on. I also included a number of extended techniques including circular breathing, multiphonics and extreme registers. The piece is technically quite difficult and, curiously, it is the lower instruments which have the hardest parts - the baritone sax having some altissimo passages and, eventually, ending the piece with a brief elegiac solo in the pibroch piping tradition. The piece is essentially lyrical and even vocal in character, thereby following Grainger's idea of the saxophone family (SATB) as a parallel to the family of human voices.
The title comes from the name of the mountain, Mount Alaric, in South West France, opposite the Chateau where I spent the summer. No-one seemed to know which of the two "King Alarics" the name referred to.
Gavin Bryars, born in 1943
in Goole, Yorkshire, is the most provocative and original member of an unusually
gifted generation of composers. He started his career from an expérimental
position rare in British music, and bas continued to chart a radical course
while attracting an international following. His music is featured in the
world's leading festivals and is recorded on Decca, ECM and Philips. In 1979 he
formed the Gavin Bryars Ensemble with which he tours extensively. Nonetheless,
he has remained steadfastly beyond the establishment -- and always several
degrees ahead of it.
This pattern of subversion
can be traced to his student days. While reading philosophy at Sheffield
University he played jazz double bass in his spare time and explored free
improvisation. The lessons of the unorthodox training and his expérience with
amateurs in the 'Portsmouth Sinfonia' influenced early works such as the
indeterminately scored The Sinking of the Titanic of 1969 and the classic
jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet of 1971. Though their conceptual nature
was new to British music, it was thoroughly in keeping with Bryars' own creative
concerns, combining an openness to expérience with an imagination rich in powers
of association. His involvement with the contemporary fine arts movement in the
1970s was another powerful stimulus, leading to a period of creative
reassessment through a detailed study of the work of Marcel Duchamp. The pieces
that resulted from this discipline, Out of Zaleski's Gazebo of 1977 and
My First Homage from 1978, both for two pianos, show a renewed interest
in 'found' material and a refinement of his already subtle harmonic palette.
A major turning point in
his development was the opera Medea, premièred at the Opéra de Lyon and
Opéra de Paris in 1984 in a production directed and designed by Robert Wilson.
For the first time a large-scale structure gave an ambitious focus for his
abiding musical interests: the nature of musical slowness, the role of memory,
and the scope of the new tonality that also embraced a dramatic and innovative
simplicity. With the ballets Sub Rosa of 1986 and Four Elements of
1990, Bryars continued his involvement with the stage, while exploring his
new-found musical territory in terms of instrumental, vocal and choral works
written for a number of distinguished fellow performers. Glorious Hill of
1988 was the first of several pieces conceived in fruitful collaboration with
the Hilliard Ensemble, including the Cadman Requiem and Incipit Vita
Nova (for their countertenor David James), both written in 1989, and more
recently Three Poems of Cecco Angiolieri and Expressa Solis from
1997. The Cello Concerto (Farewell to Philosophy) of 1995 was
premièred by lulian Lloyd Webber and the English Chamber Orchestra.
A fan of Sherlock Holmes
and a member of the College of Pataphysics, Bryars has also felt free to
translate his wide-ranging literary interests into music : for example, his
enthusiasm for early English texts in the choral-orchestral The War in
Heaven of 1993; for Bram Stoker's Dracula in The North Shore
of 1994; for Thomas De Quincy in the a capella And so ended Kant's travelling
in this world of 1997; and for Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the
Sea in three remarkable seascapes written in 1991, The White Lodge
for mezzo soprano and electronics, The Black River for soprano and organ
and The Green Ray for soprano saxophone and chamber orchestra.
Based on a Verne short
story, Bryars' second opera, Doctor Ox's Experiment, given at English
National Opera in 1998 but in gestation since the mid-1980s, is a natural sequel
to his music composed since Medea. Several works in the intervening years,
whilst being complete in themselves, served as opportunities for the composer to
work through ideas for the opera. The concerto By the Vaar (1987) is a
study for the love scene in Act one, dedicated to and recorded by the American
jazz bassist Charlie Haden. The 1988 Doctor Ox's Experiment (Epilogue),
for soprano and ensemble, is an entire telling of the story, in retrospect, by
one of the protagonists, Suzel. A fable of human relations blighted by the
misuse of science, Doctor Ox's Experiment is a 19th century story
with a moral far beyond the millennium. Another twist in the unfolding story of
Bryars' artistic journey, it is both a summing up of his achievement to date,
and a harbinger of promise for further adventures to come.
© Schott & Co. Ltd
Sélectionné par les Inrockuptibles / FNAC en novembre 1998
Disque DAPHENEO 9810
Allgrasco for soprano saxophopne and string orchestra.
Alaric 1 or 2.