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JOHN TAVENER

Throughout his career, Sir John Tavener was a unique and influential figure in the contemporary music scene. From his days as an audacious young composer at the forefront of the avant-garde movement in the late sixties and seventies, through to his latter-day rejection of many of the standard aesthetic principles on which the Western classical music tradition is based, he seemed to have caused controversy in whichever direction he has moved.

John Kenneth Tavener was born in London in 1944, and educated at the Royal Academy of Music with Lennox Berkeley as his tutor in composition. He was still at college when he won the prestigious Prince Rainier of Monaco Prize in 1965 with his cantata Cain and Abel. He was closely linked with religious music, and his catalogue of works includes three Requiems. More recently he has moved towards sacred orchestral works, of which his score for cello and orchestra, The Protecting Veil, entered the world of 20th century ‘pop’ classics.

He was influenced by Stravinsky but developed a very personal style that embraced his own concept of melodic minimalism. Within the field of sacred music Tavener developed a style whereby he used what appeared to be a traditional theme, which on closer examination was seen to have been his own. He was criticised for his lack of a distinct purpose in the progress of his career, while envied by those who see him as one of the most commercially successful composers of his time. That success was greatly furthered when his sacred work Song for Athene was sung at the funeral ceremony of Princes Diana.

On the surface, he seemed like a figure of contradiction: on one hand, he moved in the austere world of royalty and religious institutions; on the other, he was seen communing in a glamorous world of film and pop stars. His critics have jumped on these apparent paradoxes to denounce Tavener as a carefully and cleverly manufactured PR product, but this is a superficial judgement. All his paths were taken with the utmost integrity and conviction, and unified by one consistent, obsessive goal: a desire to find what is true in the deepest sense of the word. Different people and different traditions refer to this truth by different names, but whether you call it salvation, the soul, nirvana, cosmic consciousness or simply the ‘essence’ of life Tavener’s one and only aim was to bring himself and his audiences closer to an ultimate truth through his music.

Tavener moved from an “Orthodox” towards a Universalist view in which all religions are seen as equally valid. Throughout his career there have been many influences, not only from different religious traditions but from secular sources as well. The unifying factor between them all was not any one particular tradition; it is the desire to express truth and beauty through his music.

Tavener’s view was that we live in an over-intellectualised society in which the strong emphasis placed on issues that feed the ego, such as academic success, money and achievement—all the things on which our society is based—has distanced us from who or what we really are, from the ‘essence’ of life. Few would disagree that the increasing importance placed on image in Western countries tends towards a shallower, dumbed-down society. Tavener applied this viewpoint on a wider scale. For him, the downward spiral started with the Renaissance. In musical terms, he acknowledged the genius of masters like Beethoven and Wagner, though he found the sophistication and ‘clever’ techniques of the music lacking in this essence. This view may seem outrageous to many music lovers, but it was a view which striked a strong chord with his own philosophy, and it was this belief that led him to write music which had an extremely significant impact on the industry. With this in mind, if one looks at Tavener’s career to date as a whole, it can be seen as a process of unlearning.

From his early, complex works, he gradually pared down his music, removing the intellectual systems and techniques to get as near as he can to a state where only the ‘essence’ remains. This made him unpopular with the critics, but it was his firm and absolute conviction that this was the right direction for him. Once, when accused of his music having no substance, he retorted ‘But I’m not interested in substance; it’s the essence of the music that counts!’ Given the popularity of his music, and his long-standing success, it is difficult to deny that he has a point.

Sir John Tavener died on 12 November 2013.

Box Set Release Catalogue Number
Artist Profile Series - Jeremy Summerly Naxos 8.506024
English Choral Music Naxos 8.501007

View by Role: Classical Artist | Classical Composer | Lyricist
Role: Classical Artist 
Album Title  Catalogue No  Work Category 
TAVENER: John Tavener - A Portrait (MCCLEERY) Naxos Educational
8.558152-53
Music Biographies

Role: Classical Composer 
Album Title
Catalogue No  Work Category 
ADAGIO CHILLOUT Naxos
8.556783
Choral - Sacred
Artist Profile Series - SUMMERLY, Jeremy Naxos
8.578072
Choral - Sacred
BEST OF BRITISH Naxos
8.570573-74
Choral - Sacred
Cello Recital: Samis, Michael - REINECKE, C. / TAVENER, J. / SCHUMANN, R. / BLOCH, E. / GOLIJOV, O. Delos
DE3446
Instrumental
Children's Choir Music: New London Children's Choir - SKEMPTON, H. / CORP, R. / BENNETT, R.R. / CHILCOTT, B. / RUTTER, J. / MAW, N. (Pigs Could Fly) Naxos
8.572113
Choral - Sacred
Choral Concert: Choir of St. John's, Elora - TAVENER, J. / STAINER, J. POULENC, F. / STANFORD, C.V. (Psalms and Motets for Reflection) Naxos
8.572540
Choral - Sacred
Choral Concert: The King's Singers - SCHUTZ, H. / POULENC, F. / LASSO, O. (Pater Noster: A Choral Reflection on the Lord's Prayer) Naxos
8.572987
Choral - Sacred
Choral Concert: Vox Humana - WHITACRE, E. / PAULUS, S. / CHILDS, D.N. / PART, A. / TAVENER, J. / BETINIS, A. / LAURIDSEN, M. (Into the Night) Naxos
8.572511
Choral - Sacred
Choral Music - TAVENER, J. / LIGETI, G. / DEBUSSY, C. / BADINGS, H. / POULENC, F. / RUTTI, C. / THOMPSON, R. (San Francisco Symphony Chorus) Delos
DE3270
Choral - Sacred
Choral Music: Exultate Singers - PANUFNIK, R. / VAUGHAN WILLIAMS, R. / TAVENER, J. / GORECKI, H. / MANTYJARVI, J. / NYSTEDT, K. (All Shall be Well) Naxos
8.572760
Choral - Sacred
Choral Recital: Boston Trinity Church Choir - BIEBL, F.X. / TAVENER, J. / PART, A. / DIRKSEN, R.W. (Radiant Light - Songs for the Millennium) Dorian Sono Luminus
DOR-93191
Choral - Sacred
CHRISTMAS (THE MYSTERY OF) Naxos
8.554179
Choral - Sacred
CHRISTMAS (THE VERY BEST OF) Naxos
8.570344-45
Choral - Sacred
Christmas Carols From Around the World Naxos
8.503109
Choral - Sacred
CHRISTMAS CHORAL MUSIC (Boston Trinity Church Choir, Jones) Dorian Sono Luminus
DOR-93240
Choral - Sacred
CHRISTMAS WITH WINCHESTER COLLEGE CHAPEL CHOIR Naxos
8.557965
Choral - Sacred
CHRISTMAS WITH WINCHESTER COLLEGE CHAPEL CHOIR (NTSC) Naxos
2.110512
Classical Concert
Classical Chill Naxos
8.520101
Choral - Sacred
CLASSICAL MEDITATION Naxos
8.570364-65
Choral - Sacred
Discover Music of the Twentieth Century Naxos Educational
8.558168-69
Choral - Sacred
EASTER ALBUM (AN) Naxos
8.570175-76
Orchestral
ELGAR: Severn Suite / BOURGEOIS: William and Mary / TAVENER: Trisagion / PICKARD: Black Castles BIS
BIS-CD-1354
Orchestral
ENGLISH CHORAL MUSIC Naxos
8.557557-58
Choral - Sacred
ENKELIN AANIN (Angel's Voices) Naxos
8.503147
Choral - Sacred
Gabriel's Message: One Thousand Years of Carols Naxos
8.554723
Choral - Sacred
IN BALANCE WITH CLASSICAL MUSIC Naxos
8.503180DK
Choral - Sacred
JACKSON, G.: Requiem / In all his works / I am the voice of the wind / POTT, F.: When David heard (Vasari Singers, Backhouse) Naxos
8.573049
Choral - Sacred
JESUS CHRIST IN MUSIC Naxos
8.557161
Choral - Sacred
Music and Video Club Vol. 2 (UK Only) Naxos
8.555082
Orchestral
MYSTIC CLASSICS - Visionary Choral and Orchestral Masterpieces Naxos
8.570225-26
Music Biographies
MYSTIC VOICES - Divine Music from the Heavens Naxos
8.570169-70
Choral - Sacred
NAXOS 15TH ANNIVERSARY CD Naxos
8.555964
Choral - Sacred
NYSTEDT, K.: Stabat Mater / HUMMEL, B.: Abschied / PART, A.: Nunc dimittis / BARBER, S.: Agnus Dei (In Croce) (Berger, Kamer Choir, Sirmais) Solo Musica
SM120
Choral - Sacred
STORY OF BRITISH CLASSICAL MUSIC (THE) Naxos Educational
8.558193-94
Choral - Sacred
TAVENER, J.: Choral Ikons (NTSC) Opus Arte
OA0855D
Classical Concert
TAVENER, J.: Choral Ikons (The Choir, Whitbourn) Opus Arte
OACD9007D
Choral - Sacred
TAVENER, J.: Essential John Tavener (The) (5-CD Box Set) Naxos
8.505239
Orchestral, Vocal, Choral - Sacred, Choral - Secular, Instrumental, Choral - Sacred, Choral - Secular, Choral - Sacred
TAVENER, J.: Ex Maria Virgine (Clare College Choir) Naxos
8.572168
Choral - Sacred, Choral - Secular
TAVENER, J.: Fall and Resurrection (PAL/NTSC) Opus Arte
OA0841D
Classical Concert
TAVENER, J.: Pratirūpa (version for piano and string orchestra) (van Raat, Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic, Falletta) Naxos
9.70218
Concertos
TAVENER: Choral Ikons (PAL) Opus Arte
OA0854D
Classical Concert
TAVENER: John Tavener - A Portrait (MCCLEERY) Naxos Educational
8.558152-53
Music Biographies
TAVENER: Lament for Jerusalem Naxos
8.557826
Choral - Sacred
TAVENER: Piano Works Naxos
8.570442
Instrumental
TAVENER: Protecting Veil / In Alium Naxos
8.554388
Vocal, Orchestral
TAVENER: Song for Athene / Svyati Naxos
8.555256
Choral - Sacred

Role: Lyricist 
Album Title
Catalogue No  Work Category 
TAVENER, J.: Essential John Tavener (The) (5-CD Box Set) Naxos
8.505239
Choral - Sacred
TAVENER, J.: Fall and Resurrection (PAL/NTSC) Opus Arte
OA0841D
Classical Concert
TAVENER: Song for Athene / Svyati Naxos
8.555256
Choral - Sacred





 
 
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