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)


February 1, 1994

Gavin’s Notes:

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.

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


Gavin Bryars