Working in the lockdown – continued
September 15, 2020

In June I wrote a journal entry about life here in the current situation, and I talked about music that I’d been writing and music that I planned to write. So here’s an update on those plans/ambitions…

Sixth Book of Madrigals (2015-2020)

Having been commissioned for five madrigals for The Song Company to perform at the 2015 Adelaide Festival, I have added five more to complete the book. They all set sonnets from Petrarch’s Rime Sparse and this now means that I have two more books to write to give a total of eight books of madrigals, most of which set Petrarch. The Seventh Book will comprise madrigals for female voices and two existing madrigals, the Two Love Songs commissioned by Juice and recorded by The Crossing, will be the first two in the book. (See Journal Entry on Madrigals).

Denisyeva Cycle

I have now started work on 19 songs for bass voice (Runi Brattaberg) and piano (my daughter Mashka) setting the Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev (in Russian). The poems are those that make up the Denisyeva Cycle, a group of love poems for Elena Denisyeva, his mistress for over fourteen years until her death in 1864. The American philosopher John Dewey wrote a substantial biography of Tyutchev and translated many of his works. Here is his translation of the first of the poems

Last Love

O, how at life’s ebb-tide love seems

To hold both tenderness and foreboding!

Shine on, last love — shine, parting beams,

Till forced to scatter at nightfall’s bidding!

Dark shadow fills half heaven’s vault;

Westward alone does an afterglow linger…

Day, pause in your flight, if you cannot halt:

Enchantment, stay a little longer!

Though thinly now the blood may course,

The heart with tenderness brims over…

O last love, doomed to be the source

Of joy and hopelessness interwoven!

Ornella Volta (1927-2020)

My friend Ornella Volta, the head of the Satie Foundation and the person at the centre of much of the Satie activity in the world, died on August 16 2020. In the 1980s she appointed me British Ambassador to the foundation – and John Cage the American Ambassador.

In her memory I have started to work on a piece for baritone voice and piano based on material from Satie’s Socrate. I am developing this in parallel with the Russian songs…

Gavin Bryars