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Barry Guy

Publisher: Novello & Co

Un Coup de Dés (1994)
Work Notes
Joint prize winner of the Hilliard Composition Prize
Novello & Co Ltd
Small Ensemble (2-6 players)
Year Composed
15 Minutes
Programme Note
Barry Guy Un Coup de Dés (1994)


Extracts of single words and phrases from Stéphane Mallarmé's text: Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard. These extracts reform to propose a musical and philosophical approach to a flexible tapestry of musical possibilities decided by the four singers.


The duration should be about 10 minutes, (however, if a larger ensemble wishes to perform this piece, the work could be extended to 20 minutes).

Performance Guide:

Un coup de dés is quite easy to perform providing the ideas of flexibility and clear articulation are remembered. Like the Möbius loop, the piece traces its way back to the beginning ready to embark on another journey.

Modules (dice) A, A+, B, C and C retrograde present pitch aggregations which are given specific dynamics and speed suggestions. A+, B and C have in addition a sub-phrase which arrives, is stated two or three times and departs.

Short refrains link modules A+ to B, B to C and C to "Fragmentation and Veto".

Fragmentation and Veto invites the players to manipulate text fragments but also to insert a veto at any point, diverting the improvisational nature of the music and words to precise momentary articulations. The idea is to create a continuous tapestry of events that seamlessly (via the transition) moves to a retrograde recapitulation concluding on "C".

Programme Note:

In considering a piece for the Hilliard Ensemble I was persuaded to examine the idea of modules that could be flexed, fragmented and layered. This architectural metaphor suggested a graphic presentation and took me on a journey through Richard Rogers' Tomigaya (Tokyo) Exhibition space project (strategically developed by Laurie Abbott) where modules and floors would operate like an adjustable shelving system to Peter Eisenmann's Max Reinhardt Haus (Berlin) project, which manipulated the infinite three dimensional Möbius strip to arrive at a series of topological surfaces forming the prismatic character of the building.

In consideration of a text these "visual" images reminded me of Mallarmé's exquisite poem Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard - a typographical symphony of words. Here was the connection of modules/dice and fragmentation/text. The poem is long, and throughout its "landscape" presentation several words were highlighted in upper case lettering. Collecting and reforming these suggested a quasi-abstract text, a distillation of Mallarmé's poem that reflected the operations of modules.

© Barry Guy

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