Duration: 20’
Original Instrumentation: 2 pianos ( 4 or 8 hands), string quintet, optional 2 vibes and sizzle cymbal.
Subsequent Instrumentation: piano solo, string quintet, percussion 2 players (glockenspiel, 2 vibes, sizzle cymbal)
First performance: Secession Hall, Vienna 22 May 1983


February 1, 1983

Gavin’s Notes:

Les Fiançailles (1983-4)

A sketch for Les Fiançailles (“engagement”) was written in 1983 for a scene in Robert Wilson’s CIVIL WarS, in which a Japanese bride delivers two texts: one in French announcing a forthcoming aristocratic marriage; the other an old text in Japanese announcing the link between the Sun and the Imperial throne. When I gave a concert in the Secession Hall in Vienna, I developed the piece further to incorporate the special quality of the Viennese string players who played with me, making a concert work for string quintet, two pianos (8 hands) and percussion. In musical terms this related to the Secession Hall’s important role in Viennese music, in particular to its connection with early Schoenberg and Mahler, and the writing for the high strings, for example, consciously evoked chamber music of the period. When work resumed on CIVIL WarS in 1984, in addition to the original piece being used for the bride’s aria, this extended concert work appeared during a slow motion sequence where, at a particular point in the music, the actress Delphine Seyrig was to read quietly a letter written by Marie Curie to Pierre, her dead husband. The instrumentation has now been simplified to string quintet, solo piano and percussion.

Gavin Bryars