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Gwyn Pritchard: The Firmament of Time
for orchestra


The title originates in a line from Shelley’s Adonais and is also the title of a book by the American scientist, thinker and poet Loren Eiseley.


The movement of the sun across the sky, or the moon across the night sky (or of our eye across either) defines a trajectory through fields of both generalised and more or less specific phenomena: clouds, galaxies, constellations and so forth; and this is precisely what happens in the course of the piece, as an unbroken strand of slow material moves in time between being almost inaudible behind clouds and galaxies of other musical materials, sometimes nebulous, sometimes differentiated, and at other moments shining forth like a hot sun or bright moon in a clear sky.


However the concept of a firmament OF time rather than IN time suggests more than just a chronological sequence of some sort, inviting us to perceive time as non-directional, bounded only by the horizons of our own experience. Within such a concept an event and its recall as a memory are both equally ‘real’, simply different experiences of the same thing. Similarly, in this music the materials and the process that generate them are in a constant process of generation, restatement and transformation; their specific chronology is much less important.


As a postscript, it seems probable that Eiseley’s book title reflects a misreading (intentional or otherwise) of Shelley’s text, which is:

The splendours of the firmament of time

May be eclipsed, but are extinguished not;

It appears that Eiseley reads ‘OF time’ to mean that ‘the firmament’ defines a specific concept of time, rather than merely implying that the splendours of the firmament, in the course of time, may be eclipsed. Ironically, it was an encounter with the book title, not the book itself nor the Shelley text, that, after the completion of the piece seemed to evoke and crystallise its musical ideas, and so lend itself as a title also for this music. (Goodness knows what Shelley would make of all this!)

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