Sun, Moon, and Stars
Jane Manning and Richard Rodney Bennett commissioned this song cycle for soprano and piano and gave the first performance in February 1978 in Hong Kong.
The words I have chosen are taken from the poems and meditations of Thomas Traherne, the seventeenth century mystic. There are four songs; the first, ‘Sun, Moon, and Stars’ is a setting of a prose passage:
‘All appeared new and strange at first,
inexpressibly rare and delightful and beautiful.
The streets were mine, the Temple was mine, the
People were mine, and so were the sun and moon and
Stars, and all the world was mine. All things
Were spotless and pure and glorious, Yea and
Infinitely mine and joyful and precious. But
little did the Infant dream that all the treasures
of the world were by. And that himself was so the
cream and crown of all, which round about did lie.’
A setting of verses from Traherne’s poem ‘The Hill’ follows:
‘Rise, noble soul and come away;
Let us no longer waste the day:
Come let us haste to yonder Hill,
Where pleasures fresh are growing still.
The way at first is rough and steep;
And something hard for to ascend:
But on the top do pleasures keep
And ease and joys do still attend.
Come let us go: and do not fear
The hardest way, while I am near.
My heart with thine shall mingled be;
Thy sorrows mine, my joys with thee.
Rise and come away.’
The third song, taken from his long poem ‘Solitude’ is tragic in feeling:
Ah how forlorn, how desolate.
How sadly did I stand
When in the field my woeful state I felt!
Not all the land,
Not all the skies
Tho’ heaven shined before mine eyes,
Could comfort yield in any field to me.
Nor could my mind contentment find or see;
Felicity! O where? O where?
Shall I thee find to ease my mind! O where?’
Serenity returns in the last song ‘Clothed with the stars’ which is a setting , slow and rapt of a beautiful prose fragment:
‘You never enjoy the world aright till you are
clothed with the stars. Till your spirit filleth
the whole world and the stars are your jewels.’