Sunday, January 30, 2011

Gavin Bryars' "Sinking of the Titanic" (1969)

"Sinking of the Titanic" was Gavin Bryars' first major piece and it remains one of his best, a rarely performed, beautiful and original minimalist multi-media piece for orchestra. The germ of the composition comes from the story that the band on the Titanic went down with the ship playing the Episcopal hymn "Autumn." With this piece, that hymn is performed by the strings and echoed gorgeously and hauntingly in drifting waves throughout the rest of the orchestra. The piece evolves slowly, taking us quietly down with the ship to the ocean floor and then, many years later bringing the ship back up again as it is discovered and explored. Woodblocks ping out sonar beams, a bass clarinet weaves a warm and whirling journey beneath the waves, a crackling recording of an old woman recalling the evacuation of the ship swims up out of crumbling static now and again. The piece ends serenely beneath the ocean, winding through the halls of the decaying ship, faint, melancholy reminiscences of when it was full of life and music whispering beneath a thrumming pulse and snarled static. The hymn remains thematically present throughout, reemerging in full near the end through a glowing pulse of sound. Wonderfully evocative, this recording is gorgeously forlorn and haunting. Not positive which orchestra is performing here but they do a fantastic job in any case. The link is for the full performance, 1:12:35 in length.


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