About this Recording
8.555256 - TAVENER: Song for Athene / Svyati
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John Tavener (b

John Tavener (b. 1945)

Song for Athene / Svyati and other choral works



John Tavener studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Sir Lennox Berkeley and David Lumsdaine. In 1968 his dramatic cantata The Whale took its audience by storm and led to his music being recorded on The Beatles' Apple label. Since that time Tavener has continued to show an originality of concept and an intensely personal idiom, making his a voice quite separate from those of his contemporaries. Over the years, the contemplative side of his nature has led him in more spiritual directions and his commitment to the Russian Orthodox Church, which he joined in 1977, is now evident in all his work.



In an interview published in his recent book The Music of Silence, Sir John Tavener wrote. "If you listen to the music of the East, somehow the divine is already there. It is - which is a parallel with the eternal 'I am."' What this means in practical terms is that Tavener, in aiming at writing music suitable to convey the theology and the spirituality of the Orthodox Church, to participate in some way in that "eternal 'I am"', creates music of what one might call "dynamic stasis". In other

words, the long phrases of eastern chant (of various traditions), the harmonic transparency and the stillness of his work runs counter to what the composer sees as the more "active" spirit of western sacred music; nevertheless, Tavener's western background inevitably and naturally plays its part, and the unique sound of the fusion of these two is characteristic of all of the works on this disc.



God is with us, which has the subtitle “A Christmas Proclamation", is a good example of this approach. Written in 1987, its text is an adaptation of part of the service of Compline, as celebrated on Christmas Eve in the Orthodox Church. its powerful chant-like melodic lines celebrate the incarnation using words originating in the Old Testament prophecies. Essentially a simple three-part structure, refrains framing a highly ornamented central tenor solo, there is an unexpected al works transformation at the end, when Tavener introduces the - western! - organ to reinforce the massive sound required from the choir announcing the birth of Christ.



Song for Athene, which has become one of Tavener's best known pieces since it was sung at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, takes as its text a mixture of Shakespeare (specifically Hamlet) and the Orthodox funeral service. The work, originally written in 1993, is typical of Tavener's rich choral sound, its peals of "Alleluia" increasing gradually in volume and impinging further on the listener's consciousness. In both these works, the choral writing carries resonances of renaissance polyphony (though it is far from contrapuntal in construction) and of the English cathedral tradition but transmutes them into something quite different, and quite recognisably by Tavener.



Love bade me welcome, a setting of George Herbert made in 1985, in spite of its evocation of Orthodox chant in its melodic style, is also characterized by a very English reticence, eschewing detailed word-painting, which paradoxically permits a tremendous intensity and identification with the awe at the mystery of the “divine condescension" of Love. English poetry, by William Blake, also elicits a similarly instinctive and effective response in The Lamb and The Tiger. The former, also from 1985, was made famous by the choir of King's College, Cambridge by its inclusion in the annual Service of Nine Lessons and Carols, might almost be described as a (sacred) lullaby, built on a lyrical idea and its inversion. The latter, dating from two years later. is. appropriately, a dazzling, fiery evocation of the "fearful symmetry" of this symbol of the energy of God's creation; it includes a masterstroke in the quotation of the music for The Lamb at the words "Did

he who made the Iamb make thee?"



Tavener's Magnificat and Nunc dimittis Collegium Regale of 1986 were also written for King's College, Cambridge. Although they were intended for the Anglican liturgy, (hey make exceptional use of the ison (drone) of Greek Orthodox tradition, and in the Magnificat Tavener includes the troparion to the Mother of God, "Greater in honour than the Cherubim, and glorious incomparably more than the seraphim, thou who inviolate didst bring forth God the Word, and art indeed the true Mother of God: thee do we magnify". This is inserted after each verse of the text, according to Orthodox usage. Increasingly rich scoring is used for each verse, and the troparion is set with particular exuberance. By contrast, (he Nunc dimittis is a sparer, more restrained setting, though showing a similarly imaginative use of colour.



Two Hymns to the Mother of God date from 1985. The first sets part of a text taken from the Liturgy of St Basil the Great, celebrated on the Feast of St Basil and on the Sundays of Great Lent, speaking of the cosmic power of the Mother of God, her in whom "all creation rejoices". Tavener sets it as a double choir canon, with striking passing dissonances, to magical effect, and formally it is tripartite. The second hymn takes a text from the Feast of the Dormition (falling asleep) of the

Mother of God, in which the Virgin addresses the Apostles and Christ, repeated three times in varying scorings. Funeral Ikos is one of Tavener's most serenely beautiful works. It sets words from the service for burial of priests. The music, austere and hypnotic, repeats six times in different vocal combinations, until (he whole text is covered. Each section is demarcated by an' Alleluia' .the texts of Orthodox funeral services express not only the awareness of the transitory nature

of mortal life ("Where then is comeliness? Where then is wealth? Where then is the glory of this world?"), but a clear hope and belief in life after death.



As One who has slept (1997) deals with what the composer describes as the "awe, silence and expectation" which characterize the Liturgy of St Basil celebrated on the morning of Great and Holy Saturday, when Hell is harrowed and death is trampled underfoot by the Resurrection which will be celebrated at midnight, The main choir, which sings the text twice, followed by Alleluias, is "shadowed" by a second, singing a choral drone which moves, in the first section, from E minor to E major and back again, and similarly in the second from F sharp minor to F sharp major and back, The bareness of the musical material in this work is very striking Tavener's most recent setting of the Lord's Prayer (1999) is constructed in a similarly economical fashion, but what strikes one when listening to them is the harmonic ebb-and-flow, the waves of gentle dissonance that give them, far from any Eastern resonance, such a traditionally English sound. Rather less English, however, is Svyati, written in 1995.


This is a dialogue between choir and solo 'cello, built on the text of the Trisagion ("Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy upon us"), sung in Church Slavonic, the liturgical language of the Russian Orthodox Church The 'cello plays long-breathed lines of ever increasing intensity, while the choir solemnly and imploringly intones the petitions of the Trisagion, This text occurs throughout the services of the Orthodox Church, including that which is evoked here - the funeral service, when the coffin is taken from the church to the grave, Svyati was begun on learning of the death of the father of a friend, Jane Williams, and is dedicated to his memory, The personal grief which seems to be expressed in the song of the solo 'cello is interwoven with the timeless compassion invoked by the choir, the "eternal 'I am"' resounding through the ages.


Ivan Moody


[1] God is with us

God is with us.

Hear ye people, even to the uttermost end of the earth.

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.

The people that dwell in the shadow of death,

upon them the light has shined.

For unto us a child is born! For unto us a son is given!

And the government shall he upon his shoulder.

And his name shall be called Wonderful!

Counsellor! The Mighty God!


[2] Song for Athene

Alleluia May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Alleluia. Remember me O Lord,

when you come into your kingdom.

Alleluia. Give rest O Lord to your hand-maid,

who has fallen asleep.

Alleluia The Choir of Saints have found the well-spring

of life, and door of paradise.

Alleluia Life a shadow and a dream.

Alleluia Weeping at the grave creates the song Alleluia.

Alleluia Come, enjoy rewards and crowns

I have prepared for you.


[3] The Lamb

Little Lamb, who made thee?

Dost thou know who made thee?

Gave thee life, and bid thee feed

By the stream and o'er the mead;

Gave thee clothing of delight,

Softest clothing, woolly, bright;

Gave thee such a tender voice,

Making all the vales rejoice?

Little Lamb, who made thee?

Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I'll tell thee,

Little Lamb, I'll tell thee;

He is called by thy name, For he calls himself a Lamb.

He is meek, and he is mild,

He became a little child.

I, a child, and thou a Iamb, We are called by his name.

Little Lamb, God bless thee!

Little Lamb, God bless thee!


William Blake


[4] The Tiger

Tiger! Tiger! Bumming bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies

Burned the fire of thine eyes?

On what wings dare he aspire?

What the hand dare seize the fire?


And what shoulder, and what art,

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat,

What dread hand? And what dread feet?


What the hammer? What the chain?

In what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? What dread grasp

Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,

And watered heaven with their tears,

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?


Tiger! Tiger! Burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?


William Blake


[5] Magnificat

My soul doth magnify the Lord; and my spirit hath

rejoiced in God my Saviour;

Greater in honour than the cherubim, and glorious

incomparably more than the seraphim;

thou who inviolate didst bring forth God the

Word, and art indeed the Mother of God:

thee do we magnify.

For He hath

regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden.

For behold, from henceforth

all generations shall call me blessed

For He that is mighty hath

magnified me, and holy is His name.

And His mercy is on them that fear

Him, throughout all generations.

He hath showed strength with His arm:

He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of

their hearts.

He hath put down the mighty from their seat,

and hath exalted the humble and

meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich He hath

sent empty away.

He remembering His mercy hath holpen His servant

Israel, as He promised to our forefathers,

Abraham and His seed, forever.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy


As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,

world without end.



[6] Nunc Dimittis

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace,

according to Thy word.

For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation,

which Thon hast prepared

before the face of all people,

to be a light to lighten the Gentiles,

and to be the glory of Thy people Israel.

Glory be to the Father, and to

the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and

ever shall be, world without end Amen.


[7] Funeral lkos

Why these bitter words of the dying,

O brethren, which they utter as they go hence?

I am parted from my brethren.

All my friends do I abandon, and go hence.

But whither I go, that understand I not, neither

what shall become of me yonder; only God,

who hath summoned me knoweth.

But make commemoration of me with the song: Alleluia.

But whither now go the souls?

How dwell they now together there?

This mystery have I desired to learn,

but none can impart aright.

Do they call to mind their own people, as we do them?

Or have they forgotten all those who mourn them

and make the song Alleluia.

We go forth on the path eternal and as condemned,

with downcast faces,

present ourselves before the only God eternal.

Where then is comeliness?

Where then is wealth?

Where then is the glory of this world?

There shall

none of these things aid us,

but only to say oft the psalm: Alleluia.

If thou hast shown mercy unto man,

O man, that same mercy shall be shown thee there;

and if on an orphan thou hast shown compassion,

the same sball there deliver thee from want.

If in this life the naked thou hast clothed,

the same shall give thee shelter there, and sing the psalm:



Youth and the beauty of the body fade

at the hour of death,

and the tongue then burneth fiercely,

and the parched throat is inflamed.

The beauty of the eyes is quenched then,

the comeliness of the face all altered,

the shapeliness of the neck destroyed;

and the other parts have become numb,

nor often say: Alleluia.


With ecstasy we are inflamed

if we but hear that there is light eternal yonder;

that there is Paradise,

wherein every soul of Righteous Ones rejoiceth.

Let us all, also, enter into Christ, that all we may cry

aloud thus unto God: Alleluia.


Two Hymns to the Mother of God


[8] Hymn to the Mother of God

In you, O Woman full of Grace

In you, O Woman full of Grace,

the angelic choirs and the human race,

all creation rejoices O sanctified Temple,

mystical Paradise, and glory of Virgins.

In You, O Woman full of Grace, all creation rejoices.


[9] Hymn for the Dormition of the Mother of God

a Ye Apostles

a ye apostles, assembled here from the ends of the earth,

bury my body in Gethsemane;

and Thou my Son and God, receive my Spirit.


[10] Love bade me Welcome

Love bade me welcome yet my soul drew back,

Guiltie of dust and sinne.

But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,

If I lack'd any thing.


A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:

Love said, You shall be he.

I the unkjnde, ungratefull? Ah my deare,

I cannot look on thee.

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

Who made the eyes but I?


Truth Lord, but I have marr'd them: let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.

And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?

My deare, then I will serve.

You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat:

So I did sit and eat.


George Herbert


[11] As one who has slept

As one who has slept

The Lord has risen

And rising he has seen ns

Alleluia (six times)


As one who has slept

The Lord has risen

And rising he has seen us

Alleluia (six times)


[12] The Lord's Prayer

Our Father who art in Heaven

Hallowed be Thy name

Thy kingdom come

Thy will be done

On earth as it is in Heaven

Give us this day our daily bread

And forgive us our trespasses

As we forgive those who trespass against us

And lead us not into temptation

But deliver us from evil



The Bible


[13] Svyati

Holy God,

Holy and Strong,

Holy and Immortal,

Have mercy upon us.

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