For SATB Chorus and Organ
Light, and the idea of light, has always been a source of inspiration for me, and the heavenly bodies often provoke a desire to create some kind of numinous music. I was struck by the immensity of the vision in these lines by Phineas Fletcher, in which he sees light as a manifestation of the divine. He contemplates the mystery of the cosmos in all its immeasurable grandeur, and evokes in us a sense of awe and wonder.
Phineas Fletcher (1582-1650) combined metaphysical poetry with church ministry, as did his brother Giles. Phineas, the more prolific poet, spent the second half of his life as rector of Hilgay, Norfolk, while Giles became vicar of Alderton in Suffolk. Their cousin, John Fletcher, is famous for his successful playwriting collaboration with Francis Beaumont.
Vast Ocean of Light, whose rays surround
The Universe, who know’st nor ebb, nor shore,
Who lend’st the Sun his sparkling drop, to store
With overflowing beams Heav’n, air, ground,
Whose depths beneath the Centre none can sound,
Whose heights ‘bove Heav’n, and thoughts so lofty soar,
Whose breadth no feet, no lines, no chaines, no eyes survey,
Whose length no thoughts can reach, no worlds can bound,
What cloud can mask thy face? where can thy ray
Find an Eclipse? What night can hide Eternal Day?
Text: Phineas Fletcher
Commissioned by the Musicians Benevolent Fund in the name of Sir Thomas Armstrong
First performance: 24th November 2010, The combined choirs of Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral and St Paul’s Cathedral, under the direction of Robert Quinney, Festival of Saint Cecilia Service, Westminster Abbey.