The Crossing


June 14, 2025


Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, 8855 Germantown Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19118, United States

Event Web Site:

The Last Days of Immanuel Kant

This substantial new work for The Crossing follows The Fifth Century (2014) and A Native Hill (2019) in my continuing relationship with the choir. Like the other two works, I set prose rather than poetry and, in this case, by Thomas De Quincy. It takes a text that I had thought for many years to make into a chamber opera – in an austere way like the plays of Samuel Beckett, tinged with irony and restraint. The text purports to be a translation of a memoir by a contemporary of Kant’s, and in many passages it is clearly precisely that, viz. Kant’s companion Wasianski writing of the period leading to the philosopher’s passing, chronicling the gradual descent of the great philosopher into senility. But at the same time, through De Quincy’s use of footnotes and inserted passages, it takes on the quality of a kind of Duchampian ready-made. Apart from the high regard in which Kant is held as one of the most important philosophers, he was notorious for the obsessively repetitive patterns of his daily activities, which became even more exaggerated as he approached the end of his life. These become the focus of this work.

Although, like the other two works for The Crossing, this sets prose rather than poetry, this text is narrative rather than descriptive or abstract. And the ironic tone is there from the very beginning (which may or may not be a translation from Wasianski himself) and which sets a tone of curious detachment: “I take it for granted that every person of education will acknowledge some interest in the personal history of Immanuel Kant…”

I have written ‘pilot’ works relating this work over the years: the instrumental piece The Old Tower of Löbenicht; the choral work And So Ended Kant’s Travelling in this World; and the recent String Sextet which is subtitled “The Bridges of Königsberg”. Some aspect of each of these predecessors will appear in the new piece, though not necessarily in a recognisable form.

Gavin Bryars