Performed by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group

Conducted by Geoffrey Paterson.

We were incredibly delighted to have composer Param Vir involved in the first ever recording of his mesmerising piece Hayagriva, watch the full video below. 


Pre-concert Talk 

Composer Param Vir and Artistic Director Stephan Meier discuss Hayagriva before the YouTube Premiere on 19/12/2021.

Hayagriva Programme Note

Hayagriva is a horse-headed being known in Indian and Tibetansacred literature and art as an incarnation of Vishnu, associated with knowledge and wisdom. He is married to another male deity Gratu, who represents inspiration and the power of intelligence. My work draws on this image of Hayagriva and continues anexploration of beings both human and non-human associated withthe inner life and self-transformation.

At about the time that I began to conceive this work, I encountered the bronze ‘Standing Horse’ by Beth Carter at an art fair. It was a striking sculpture of a man with a horse’s head, and formed part of her own series of investigations of human and animal forms. My composition of the work thus drew very direct inspiration from the presence of this vibrant image in my workspace.

Though Hayagriva, as a mythological archetype, is associated with many stories and fantastical episodes, I have kept my work free of narrative and, as I did in an earlier work, internalised the drama around his magical qualities, in three distinct panels of the work. After the initial flurry of notes capped by a Tihai (rhythmic cadenceappearing three times), the music settles into its first main panel, underpinned by 19 cycles of 17 beats each, organised like a chaconne with alternating harmonic fields. Images unfold at great speed and with brilliance around rhythmic re-iterations of a rhetorical gesture that mark the chaconne aurally. The piano and brass instruments are primary forces here with brilliant virtuoso passages and cadenzas, whilst the strings play almost continuously. This is very much the ‘horse-panel’, firedby the earth-colours of red and crimson, and drew some of its rhythmic energy from the following verse in the Book of Job (39:19):


Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neckwith thunder? Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? The glory of hisnostrils is terrible. He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth onto meet the armed men. He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he backfrom the sword. The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield. He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neitherbelieveth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battleafar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.


The horse panel leads to a bridging section, ‘green-gold’ in focus,associated with compassion. The chief musical elements are aduet for harp and celesta, laced with percussion. This slows downthe tempo to the final panel of the work, ‘blue’, which is a singlesonic space organised around a structural polyrhythm and aharmonic field based on fourths. The polyrhythmic background is symbolic of the deity Hayagriva’s association in traditional imagery with the eternity of space, and its spiral-like quality is represented by an exact golden section in the main rhythmic division of the panel. The musical objects here are sparser, fragmented, subdued, and defocused through the use of glissandi and quarter-tones; they help to undermine the identity and solidity that have characterised the first panel of the work. Through this non-narrative space is traced a melodic line in the cor anglais, canonically embellished by the viola. This leads to an epiphanic passage in other wind instruments, followed by the strings, which draw the work to its conclusion.

The work has a small tailpiece: a striking 12-note figure quoted from Parade, a very early unpublished work by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, which I have freely re-iterated for a few bars. This codetta seemed apt as my work had its beginnings in his composition studio in Sanday, Orkney, in June 2005, when I was on a visit. Max’s work highlighted the same three primary colours in different movements (Red, Green, Blue) that I have focused in my work.

Programme Note © Param Vir, 2006



Param Vir 

Delhi-born composer Param Vir is a leading figure in contemporary music. Based in London, his output encompasses works in several genres that include chamber music, symphonic works and opera / music-theatre. His works have been performed by major ensembles, orchestras and opera houses, and presented at several international festivals. His work is inspired by varied sources drawn from world mythology, art and literature. To find out more please visit Param Vir's website.