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Selected Chamber works

Geranos (1984) for chamber ensemble

Commissioned by the Fires of London and premiered the 5 November 1985 in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. 

GERANOS - an ancient Greek word meaning ‘crane’- was the term for two kinds of chain dance. Firstly, it was a dance invented, according to legend, by Theseus, who danced it for the first time in Delos after the rescue of seven youths and seven maidens form the Labyrinth. The intricate movements of the dance were supposed to represent the mazes leading out of the Labyrinth. GERANOS was also a dance imitating the flight of cranes. 


"...Elias has created something of powerful originality, a music that rejoices in its fast outer movements with appositely ebullient solos.”

Stephen Pettitt, The Times

Three Duets (2017) for violin and violoncello

Premiered at the 2018 Purbeck International Music festival by Natalia Lomeinko and Yaroslave Trofymchuk. 

These three very short pieces  - each duet lasts just over one minute – were written in the summer of 2017. The tempi are fast/slow/fast and both instruments have equal roles.

Pythikos Nomos (1987) for saxophone and piano

Commissioned and premiered by John Edward Kelly.

It was at the request of John-Edward Kelly that Brian Elias first decide to write a work for saxophone and piano. ‘Pythikos Nomos’ (Python’s Law) is an ancient Greek musical form, invented by Sakadas in 586 BC for the Pythian games to describe the battle between Apollo and the monster on the slopes of Parnassus. It is reputedly the first known genre of programme music. 

Brian decided that the characteristic sounds of the saxophone would be well suited to ancient Greek rhythms, and was interested in the implications of this form as an early sonata shape. According to legend, Apollo fought and defeated the monster on the site, which came to be called Delphi. He returned to Delphi in triumph after a period of purification escorted by priests singing hymns of praise. Several versions of the instrumental form exist following the general storyline. Brian chose to base his piece around six sections: (i) Peira (introduction), (ii) Kataleusmos (Apollo incites the monster to battle), (iii) Imabikon (the battle), (iv) Spondeion (hymn of victory), (v) Katachoreusis (victory dance) (vi) Syrinxes (the last breaths of the dying monster). The central hymn of victory incorporates a quote from the first Delphic Hymn, a surviving fragment of ancient Greek music.

"...imaginative, concise and superbly tailored….the classical saxophone repertoire isn’t so rich in masterpieces that players can afford to ignore such a well-written and resourceful work.”

Stephen Johnson, The Times

L’ innominata (2018) for violoncello and piano


Commissioned by the Purbeck International Chamber Music Festival and premiered by Natalie Clein (cello) and Vadym Kholodenko (piano).

Italian for the unnamed, the nameless – begins with a very short introduction for cello alone followed by an ostinato passage in which the cello plays an ornamented line that ranges throughout the instrument. The tempo becomes increasingly slower with more melodic writing for the cello; the piece continues with  an allegro section that eventually resolves into the earlier, more melodic music. The work ends with a reprise of the slow music and a return to the opening phrase.

String Quartet (2012)


Commissioned by the Jerusalem Quartet. Premiered at the Secrest Series at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA, 08/10/2013.

Although this quartet is laid out in a fairly conventional four-movement plan (Allegro, Adagio, Presto, Adagio-Allegro-Adagio), it is, in effect, a work in one movement, and is performed without any breaks. A set of double variations generates the thematic and harmonic material for the entire piece in its first few bars; an Adagio that contains a substantial solo for viola follows. The Scherzo, during which the strings are muted, is rapid and pianissimo throughout. In the final section, the opening of the Adagio is stated again and then evolves through several changes of tempo, recalling briefly the initial Allegro before ending the work with a return to the slow music. 

This quartet was commissioned by the Jerusalem String Quartet with funds made available by Louise Kaye in memory of her father Harold Yauner (1922-2012), a man who loved music, and by the Secrest Series at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA, where the first performance took place on 8th October 2013.

Fantasia (1986)

Commissioned by Madeleine Mitchell, and premiered 02/06/1986 in the Purcell Room, London. 

Fantasia for violin and piano is in three sections of increasing length, the final section being the longest. The first section is fast, the second slow, and the third is slower still. All the ideas used in the work are presented in the first few bars. Much of its impetus is in the play of juxtapositions of these ideas and their presentation in the three different tempi. It is played without a break and lasts approximately nine minutes. 

Fantasia was completed in May 1986. It was commissioned by Madeleine Mitchell with funds made available by the Arts Council of Great Britain and she gave the first performance accompanied by Klaus Zoll on 2 June 1986 in the Purcell Room, London. 

Duo for violin and piano (1970)

Impromptu (2009) for flute, clarinet, and harp.

Commissioned by the Endymion ensemble, and premiered 06/06/2009 at King's Place, London. 

Impromptu was written to honour the Endymion ensemble on its thirtieth birthday. I wrote the piece without any preparation or advance planning, allowing the music itself to lead me and to dictate its form, hence the title. Although the process of composition was extemporaneous, the piece turns out to fall into a simple binary form, in which the first section is elaborated upon and slightly extended in the second. The flute and clarinet play mostly together, performing variants of the same material, often in close rhythmic parallel, while the harp has an independent role in addition to commenting and accompanying. 

Piano Trio (2019) 

Commissioned by the Rautio Piano Trio and premiered 30/05/2021 at King's Place, London

The opening ideas of this Piano Trio appear in varying guises throughout the piece and are continuously developed, as is characteristic of much of my work. There are five movements, Allegro, Lento, Presto, Adagio and a short final Presto which is effectively a coda. The opening Allegro is a call to attention, and both the slow movements are much more lyrical, using extended melodic writing that is highly decorated. The Presto is really a Scherzo and Trio along classical lines; I have been much inspired by Haydn’s piano trios, and this is only one of the many influences his music has had upon this piece.

Oboe Quintet (2016) for oboe and string quartet

In this quintet, the oboe predominates and leads the musical development to a large extent, although the strings play more than just a supporting role. The main ideas for the work (both melodic and harmonic) are stated in the first few bars and the rest of the piece develops organically from this material. Motifs, melodies and harmonies are ‘recollected’ throughout, often in new contexts, to provide a sense of unity. 

There are five movements played without a break (fast, slow, fast, slow, fast), the last being an extended coda. The first movement is moderately fast and is in a concertante style. It is followed by a slow and lyrical movement, and then a scherzo. The fourth movement is also slow, and the final section - the coda - returns to the music of the scherzo, gradually slowing down to a quiet and reflective conclusion. 

Three Scherzi (2008) for violin and piano

These three pieces for violin and piano follow closely the Minuet and Trio form used so often for lighter movements in eighteenth and early nineteenth century sonatas and symphonies. In each piece, the Minuet is divided into two sections, and each section is repeated; similarly the Trio section is also divided into two repeated sections in which the music is generally more gently paced. 

After the Trio, the minuet is played again immediately, this time without repeats. In these Scherzi I have chosen to use variants of the original of each section in most instances, rather than make exact repetitions. The first Scherzo lasts approximately 3 minutes, the second 6 minutes, and the third 2 minutes. Part of my interest and purpose in writing these pieces was to use an identical but highly elastic form for three pieces of different durations. I was also intrigued by the form’s historical development and evolution into the Scherzo, and I hope this explains the atmosphere and style of the music. 

The material for each of the three pieces is different, although the harmonic and rhythmic worlds of each one are similar and, as a result, they do form a complete work in three movements. However, each of the three Scherzi may be played separately. 

These three pieces were written between September 2004 and August 2007. 

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