Gavin Bryars_album cover

Release Date:

November 18, 2016

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Recording of choral music and saxophone quartet by The Crossing and PRISM Quartet of the Fifth Century, plus Two Love Songs, settings of Petrarch, for unaccompanied female choir.

This is Gavin’s first ECM album for 24 years following the success of CDs such as After the Requiem, Vita Nova in the late 1980’s and early 1990s

Link to video:

Gavin’s Notes:

The Fifth Century

For choir and saxophone quartet dedicated to The Crossing in memoriam Jeff Dinsmore

This large-scale work for choir and saxophone quartet sets a text from the English poet and theologian Thomas Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations, taking lines from the last section “The Fifth Century.” As with all vocal works, for me, the most critical thing to establish is the text and it was Donald Nally, director of The Crossing, who suggested that I look at the writings of Thomas Traherne.

Although Traherne lived in the 17th century, his work was unknown for over 200 years, and was first published in the first decade of the 20th century. It has an intense spirituality, celebrating the glory of creation, his almost intimate relationship with God and leading, in the final section to an apotheosis in which he declaims the “essence of God.” In many ways his work is astonishingly modern with its unwitting “Eastern” sound and feeling. The constant recurrence of certain images and abstract nouns is a feature of the language and is reflected in the musical setting:

The work is in seven sections drawn from different parts of Traherne’s “Fifth Century. ” The saxophone quartet-soprano, alto, tenor and baritone-has a prologue and short interludes but the instrumental writing is relatively restrained. In some movements the saxophone accompaniment is quite busy, whereas at other times the choir is left virtually a cappella. The musical setting itself is not complex; though the choir is often divided into multiple parts.

The work was commissioned by The Crossing, to my mind North America’s finest choir, for performance with the saxophone quartet PRISM.

Two Love Songs

These two settings of Petrarch sonnets were written for the English group Juice, a trio of sopranos-like the Scandinavian Trio Mediaeval with whom I’ve worked for many years-a combination that has a purity and serenity that I enjoy.

At the same time it gave me an opportunity to write more settings from Petrarch’s Rime Sparse, which has been an abiding passion ever since I wrote my Second Book of Madrigals in 2001-2002. These madrigals, like the two songs here, set the fourteen-line sonnet form that, with Petrarch and most others, consists of an “octave” and a “sestet,” contrasting the two parts rhythmically and formally as 2×4 and 2×3. This gives four appearances of two rhymes followed by two appearances of three rhymes-though occasionally vice versa. (Shakespeare, who I set later, has a different division within the 14 lines.)

Petrarch’s sonnets attracted me for many reasons. Initially it was because they have such prominence in Italian madrigal music, but there was also the heart- rending beauty of the poetry and their sheer technical brilliance. Some time ago I wrote that, as a composer, I live from commissions and these can take me in many different directions. But in an ideal world, when I would be free to write whatever I want, I would chose to write vocal music. Moreover, in a really ideal world, this would involve setting Petrarch.




The Crossing (conductor Donald Nally)
PRISM Quartet (saxophones)


1. We see the heavens with our eyes
2. As sure as there is a space infinite
3. Infinity of space is like a painter's table
4. Eternity is a mysterious absence of times and ages
5. Eternity magnifies our joys exceedingly
6. His omnipresence is our field of joys
7. Our bridegroom and our king being everywhere
8. Io amai sempre (Two Love Songs)
9. Solo et pensoso (Two Love Songs)

Playable Tracks

Gavin Bryars