Copyright © 2018 Roland Karl Bryce

CARMINA EX RUINAS, (2019) is a musical drama set in Lewes, East Sussex, 1538. Inspired by walking among the stones from the ruins of Saint Pancras, Cluniac Monastery that have persevered since the Dissolution.

Carmina ex Ruinas, (Songs from the ruins) is a new work that I have composed during the past year.

If you have visited the Priory ruins in Lewes, East Sussex, you may have been touched by the history of the place. It was a monastery for around 400 years. Then, being destroyed (pretty savagely) by Giovanni Portinari with his team of 17 Italian 'Sappers', employed by Thomas Cromwell during 1537/8. Fast forward to 2018/9, during my regular walks among the ruins, I have certainly felt drawn to the stones, almost sensing an energy from their past. We try to imagine what it was like in those times. I composed a set of songs featuring transcribed phrases of Gregorian chant with a blend of functional harmony and modern textures including some synthesizer timbres that support the vocals. During the process I was left imagining which plain chant might have been sung, day upon days of the 24 ‘horarium’ cycle, for almost four centuries? (As it happens, thanks to the remarkable preservation of the Lewes Breviary, a book containing the very musics that were performed in the Chapel, the Liturgy and more is recorded.)

The 'Carmina Ex' story, performance is narrated by an 'itinerant Monk'. The first public performance was  acted/narrated by Matthew Tweddle. He recites from his journal: a badly-timed visit to the Priory during the fated week in 1538 when it was laid to waste so violently and systematically. The music allows the 'monk' to retreat within himself, while trying to grasp the goings-on and hide, fighting to preserve his faith in such adverse circumstances. We hear his plain chants and are able to return to meditate on the the scenes unfolding in the Priory grounds.

The score:

Soprano Solo

Semi-chorus SATB

Flute Obbligato

Oboe & Cor. Obbligato



Sampled Church Bells



Bass / DB

Drums / Percussion

The musical time machine:

All Music begins and flows, from the first notes until the silence at the end. The introduction of Carmina Ex Ruinas delivers you to the Gregorian Chant era, while a pop beat tracks 'modern day time'. There is a strange overlap of styles: It is tonally and harmonically in synch. but the chants are rather more elastic than a steady pop beat. The harmonic pulse slows to 2 bars and the reverberant acoustic stretches tempos with the Chants. I wanted the listener to visualise being stuck in traffic along the Lewes By-pass and hearing some ordinary pop/rock beat over the radio, upon which fragments of the Plain Chants drift and summon the listener to hear the story of how the magnificent Chapel and monastery buidlngs were laid to waste in such a destructive manner.

The Movements:

PRIMUS: HOSANNA IN EXCELSIS - the Song Thrush trapped in the Great Chapel


TRIBUS: DE PROFUNDIS - The Dissolution has begun. Fires around the foundations

QUARTEM - SALVE REGINA -A Cacophony of street musicians beys for the walls to tumble

QUINTUS: DICIT DOMINUS - The miracle at Cana summoned.

SEXTUS: AGNUS DEI - Saving the Bell

SEPTEM: CHRISTUS FACTUS EST, RESURREXIT  - Grace, Prayers and flight from the Plague

OCTEM: JUBILATE DEO - The walk to Chichester - The 3 riders approach

NOVEM: KYRIE - Giving thanks for safe return to France.