Gavin Bryars: The Sinking of the Titanicby Gavin Bryars Ensemble
Gavin Bryars' The Sinking of the Titanic, the genesis of which dates back as far as 1969, is one of the classics of British minimalist music. The piece is related to other minimalist works that use spoken words and other preexisting material, but it stands apart from Steve Reich and the other specialists in this technique. It shares with certain works of Arvo Pärt the quality of having evolved as its musical life has proceeded, but this evolution is different from and more organic than anything Pärt has achieved. The Sinking of the Titanic takes as its inspiration the story, by now familiar above all from James Cameron's film treatment, of how a string quartet on board the doomed ship continued to play as it went down. Bryars uses a specific Episcopal hymn, called "Autumn," and takes an imaginative leap, suggesting that the sound waves of the stringed instruments continued to reverberate under the ocean's surface. It is this idea that has been realized in multiple ways, here with a small ensemble of instruments, spoken words, prerecorded material, and a turntablist. The string quartet at the work's center (two violas, cello, and double bass) is augmented this time around by a second, lower quartet, played by the composer's four children. These forces make their way through the 15 sections into which the work has been divided here (in earlier incarnations there have been fewer sections, in one case just one). The cumulative effect is extraordinarily powerful, mixing entirely abstract concepts with direct evocations of the disaster, and the several minutes of wild applause at the end of the live performance are retained. (No venue is specified beyond the 2012 tour by the composer and his Gavin Bryars Ensemble.) Highly recommended, even for those quite familiar with the work.
- Release Date:
- Gb Records
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