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One of the leading English composers of the past 50 years, Sir John Tavener died at his home in Child Okeford, Dorset, on November 12, at the age of 69.

John Tavener was born in London in 1944. He was a piano pupil of Solomon and a composition pupil of Lennox Berkeley at the Royal Academy of Music in London, acquiring knowledge of contemporary French music through David Lumsdaine. As a composer he has been drawn to religious subjects, inspired by his interests in the Greek Orthodox Church. He was knighted in 2000.

Throughout his career, Tavener was a unique and influential figure on the contemporary music scene. From his days as an audacious young composer at the forefront of the avant-garde movement in the late 1960s and 70s, 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 whichever direction he moved in.

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.

Vocal and Choral Music
Tavener has set a variety of liturgical texts, being as eclectic in his choice as his musical language. He won early success with his biblical cantata The Whale, and includes among his songs a number of settings of texts by the Greek Orthodox Abbess Mother Thekla. His Song for Athene (8.555256) – sung at the funeral ceremony of Princes Diana – draws on Shakespeare as well as the Orthodox service for the Ascension and Mother Thekla, and his Lament for Jerusalem (8.557826), which he describes as a mystical love song, uses Christian, Judaic and Islamic texts, sung in Greek and English.

Tavener’s operas range from Thérèse and The Immurement of Antigone to St Mary of Egypt, with a text from Mother Thekla, and Let’s begin again.

Orchestral Music
Among the best known of Tavener’s orchestral works is The Protecting Veil (8.554388), for cello and strings. The Repentant Thief is scored for clarinet, percussion and strings, and the piano concerto Pratirupa draws on Hindu sources of inspiration.

John Tavener – A Portrait

Naxos 8.557279
John Tavener – A Portrait

MusicWeb Bargain of the Month

Featuring the world première recording of Prayer of the Heart sung by Björk

John Tavener Releases

Naxos 8.554388
TAVENER, J.: The Protecting Veil / In Alium
Ulster Orchestra, Yuasa

Listen to an excerpt from The Protecting Veil:

Naxos 8.555256
TAVENER, J.: Song for Athene / Svyati
Cambridge St. John’s College Choir, Robinson

Listen to an excerpt from Song for Athene:

Naxos 8.572168
TAVENER, J.: Ex Maria Virgine
Cambridge Clare College Choir, Brown


Naxos 8.557826
TAVENER, J.: Lament for Jerusalem
Choir of London and Orchestra, Summerly

Naxos 8.570442
TAVENER, J.: Piano Works
Van Raat

Opus Arte OA0855D [DVD]
OACD9007D [CD]
TAVENER, J.: Choral Ikons
The Choir, Whitbourn

Opus Arte OA0841D
TAVENER, J.: Fall and Resurrection
BBC Singers, St Paul's Cathedral Choir, City of London Sinfonia, Hickox

Other Releases Featuring Tavener's Works

Naxos 8.572511
INTO THE NIGHT: Contemporary Choral Music
Vox Humana

Naxos 8.572540
Elora St John’s Choir, Edison

Naxos 8.572987
PATER NOSTER: A Choral Reflection on The Lord’s Prayer
The King’s Singers

BBC Music Magazine

Naxos 8.573049
TAVENER, J.: Song for Athene / JACKSON, G.: Requiem
Vasari Singers, Backhouse

Naxos 8.572760
Exultate Singers, Ogden

Naxos 8.572113
New London Children’s Choir, Corp

Naxos 8.572760
Elora Festival Singers, Edison

TAVENER, J.: Trisagion / ELGAR, E.: Severn Suite
Brass Partout, Baumer

DSL DOR-93191
RADIANT LIGHT: Songs for the Millennium
Boston Trinity Church Choir, Jones

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