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Musical settings of Thomas Traherne

Gavin Bryars (b.1943)

The Fifth Century

A composition for choir and saxophone quartet which, in seven sections, sets words from the fifth century of Thomas Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations.

Section 1 - based on Centuries of Meditations V,3

.....We see the Heavens with our Eys, and Know the World with our Sences. But had we no Eys, nor Sences, we should see Infinitie like the H. Angels. The Place wherin the World standeth, were it all annihilated would remain, the Endless Extent of which we feel so realy and palpably, that we do not more certainly know the Distinctions and figures, and Bounds and Distances of what we see, then the Everlasting Expansion of what we feel and behold within us. It is an Object infinitly Great and Ravishing: as full of Treasures as full of Room, and as fraught with Joy as Capacitie. To Blind men it seemeth dark, but is all Glorious within, as infinit in Light and Beauty, as Extent and Treasure.....A Cabinet of infinit Value equal in Beauty Lustre and Perfection to all its Treasures. It is the Bosom of God, the Soul and Securitie of every Creature.

Section 2 - based on Centuries of Meditations V,4

.....As sure as there is a Space infinit, there is a Power, a Bounty, a Goodness a Wisdom infinit, a Treasure, a Blessedness, a Glory.

Section 3 - based on Centuries of Meditations V,5

Infinity of Space is like a Painters Table, prepared for the Ground and feild of those Colors that are to be laid theron.....As the Table is infinit so are the Pictures. Gods Wisdom is the Art, his Goodness the Will, his Word the Penicill, his Beauty and Power the Colors, his Pictures are all his Works and Creatures, infinitly more Real and more Glorious, as well as more Great and Manifold then the Shadows of a Landscape.....

Section 4 - base on Centuries of Meditations V,7

Eternity is a Mysterious Absence of Times and Ages: an Endless Length of Ages always present, and for ever Perfect.....being but successions correspondent to those Parts of that Eternitie wherin they abide, and filling no more of it, then Ages can do. Whether they are commensurat with it or no, is difficult to determine. But the infinit immovable Duration is Eternitie, the Place and Duration of all Things even of Infinit Space it self: the Cause and End, the Author and Beautifier, the Life and Perfection of all.

Section 5 - based on Centuries of Meditions V,8

Eternitie magnifies our Joys exceedingly.....Eternity retains the Moments of their Beginning and Ending within it self.....Like the Sun we dart our Rayes before us, and occupy those Spaces with Light and Contemplation, which we move towards, but possess not with our Bodies.....

Section 6 - based on Centuries of Meditations V,9

His Omnipresence is an.....Field of Joys, a Transparent Temple of infinit Lustre, a Strong Tower of Defence, a Castle of Repose, a Bulwark of Security, a Palace of Delights, an immediat Help, and a present Refuge in the needfull time of Trouble, a Broad and a vast Extent of fame and Glory, a Theatre of infinit Excellency, an infinit Ocean by means wherof evry Action, Word and Thought, is immediatly diffused like a Drop of Wine in a Pail of Water, and evry where present evry where seen and Known, infinitly delighted in, as well as filling infinit Spaces.....It makes our Honor infinit in Extent, our Glory immense, and our Happiness Eternal. The Rayes of our Light are by this Means darted from Everlasting to Everlasting.

Section 7 - based on Centuries of Meditations V,10

Our Bridegroom and our King being evry where, our Lover and Defender watchfully governing all Worlds, no Danger or Enemie can arise to hurt us.....Delights of inestimable valu are there preparing. For evry thing is present by its own Existence. The Essence of God (therfore) being all Light and Knowledg, Lov and Goodness, Care and Providence, felicity and Glory, a Pure and simple wholly Busied in all Parts and places of his Dominion, perfecting and compleating our Bliss and Happiness.

The premiere of the work was given on 12th July, 2014 in Philadelphia by The Crossing (the choir which commissioned the piece) with the PRISM saxophone quartet and Donald Nally (conductor).

Recorded: The whole of movement 4 may be heard on SoundCloud as well as a snippet of movement 3.

Recorded by the PRISM quartet and The Crossing, conducted by Donald Nally. The cd was released by ECM Records as ECM 2405 in December 2016.