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Gavin Bryars

English Composer

Personal Life

Gavin Bryars was born on the 16th of January 1943 in Yorkshire, England. He states his first musical love as being jazz. In 1963, whilst studying philosophy at the University of Sheffield, Bryars played bass with jazz guitarist Derek Bailey and drummer Tony Oxley as part of the improvisatory trio Joseph Holbrooke. The trio toured with saxophonist Lee Kontis in 1966. Due to their band’s changing sound, Bryars lost interest in the style and moved to composition instead.

After leaving the trio, Brayers studied composition with John Cage, Morton Feldman and Earle Brown at The New York School. Before returning to England to study with composers Cornelius Cardew and John White; during this time, he wrote his first piece, The Sinking of the Titanic.


In 1971, Bryars wrote his second major piece, Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, and in 1972, The Sinking of the Titanic premiered and was first recorded, after numerous revisions, in 1975.

In 1974, Bryars formed the Portsmouth Sinfonia, which allowed members of the orchestra to embrace the full range of musical competence. During his time with the orchestra, he released a variety of albums, including 1974’s Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics, 1981’s Classical Muddly / Hallelujah Chorus and 1993’s Dead Parrot Society.  

In 1974, the orchestra had its first public performance at the Royal Albert Hall with conductor John Farley. With the band becoming more skilled at their instruments, which diminished the novelty of the group, they stopped performing in 1979, Although they never formally disbanded.

In 1992, commissioned by Artangel, he wrote the piece A Man in a Room, Gambling. The piece premiered on BBC Radio 3, and in 1996, his cello concerto Farewell to Philosophy was recorded by Julian Lloyd Webber. In 1999, he wrote the tribute piece When Harry Met Addie, which premiered at the Duke Ellington Memorial Concert.

Bryars founded the Music Department at De Montfort University and taught for many years. In 2020, Bryars composed Altissima Luce for Sound World’s Coronavirus Fund of Freelance Musicians.


Did You Know?

Gavin Bryars’ piece, The Sinking of the Titanic, allowed musicians to use a variety of sounds related to the sinking of the Titanic and make them into a piece of music.

Gavin Bryars

Gavin Bryars Recordings


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