Gavin Bryars on Cadman Requiem

The English Composer-Bassist Addresses His Cadman Requiem and Music for 9/11

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The above audio is the complete second movement, "Caedmon Paraphrase (Bede)," of Gavin Bryars's Cadman Requiem. Courtesy of the Artist.

I last saw my friend and sound engineer Bill Cadman in Paris at the beginning of December 1988 when we had a drink together. On December 21, Bill and his new girlfriend Sophie were killed in the Lockerbie air crash. I was very badly affected by his death and for some time I found it hard to sleep and had constant nightmares.

I wrote an obituary for The Independent newspaper shortly after his death, which helped me quite a lot. Details about the disaster were constantly in the papers and the body wasn’t found for a long time, or at least wasn’t released, and there were many questions about Lockerbie, many of which remain unanswered to this day. At Bill's funeral I met his family and got to know them. We became close friends and have been ever since. 

But I felt a real need to write something — perhaps the only time for me that this has been an almost physical necessity — and so I wrote this requiem, and it was incredibly cathartic.

I spoke with the Hilliard Ensemble who were happy to collaborate (I had written my first piece for them earlier that year), and I wrote Cadman Requiem for them. It was one of the toughest things I've ever written and there were many quite tricky aspects to the piece.

In the first place, although neither Bill nor I were practicing Christians, a requiem still felt like the right thing to compose. I was reminded of being at Cornelius Cardew's funeral, where the majority of those present were either atheists, communists or both, and the absence of any person in authority, like a minister, meant that the event lacked coherence. There was no sense of structure and no one knew what to do next — it was only the arrival of another funeral at the graveyard that pushed the burial forward. Having something formal, like a requiem, is almost reassuring in such circumstances, irrespective of religious belief.

However, when I looked at the form of the requiem itself, as distinct from the idea of one, most of the sections didn't seem to me to be appropriate to Bill's death — asking for forgiveness and so on. And after I removed the problematic texts I was left with only two: Requiem/Kyrie and Agnus Dei. I decided to add In Paradisum which, though from the Order of Burial, does appear in some requiems. However, this still seemed a bit short.

Then I thought of Caedmon's Creation Hymn, the earliest poem we have in English, and Bill’s surname “Cadman” may be a corruption of this name. There are two versions of this poem: in Latin, translated by Bede, and the original 7th century Northumbrian. This gave me effectively texts for two more sections, which come in between the Requiem sections — a tenor solo for the Latin and a baritone solo in 7th century Northumbrian.

The piece itself went through several evolutions. It was originally for the Hilliard's four voices plus strings (and I occasionally played double bass); I made a version with the viol consort Fretwork that was played and recorded at a Lockerbie Memorial Concert in Westminster Cathedral; and I have now made choral versions, with organ, that make the work more widely available for performance.

Writing a requiem is something that I could only have done in this personal context, finding it less appropriate to intervene in public grief. As it happens, in relation to September 11, I was asked by Canadian radio to write something for the first anniversary. CBC had commissioned a number of composers to make radiophonic pieces for its celebration of the centenary of Marconi's first transatlantic transmission, and asked the same composers to make pieces for September 11. I had written a piece for two voices called Marconi's Madrigal and, although finding myself unable to write anything directly related to September 11, wrote a second work for the same voices. This time, however, I set an anonymous 13th century Lauda text, Oi me lasso ("Ah, poor me, my heart is cold") as a non-specific lament.

→ Cadman Requiem is Available on Arkiv Music

→ Full Text of Oi me lasso at gavinbryars.com

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