John Tavener

1944 - 2013

British

Summary

Tavener's musical education took place against a modernist backdrop, and the first work that brought him to widespread attention, The Whale (1966), was premiered in 1968 by the London Sinfonietta at their inaugural concert and released on The Beatles' Apple Records. As the years progressed his music became increasingly spiritual in conception, contemplative in its idiom, and popular with audiences worldwide. Brought up in the Scottish Presbyterian Church, interested in the Catholic faith, he settled in the Orthodox Church in 1977, a major inspiration for his work for the following two decades. From the late 1990s he looked for inspiration from alternative sources by his broad interest in the great religions, embracing Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the spirituality of the American Indians. After a period of intense illness, he was also inspired by the works of Tolstoy, Shakespeare, the English Poets and Dante.

Tavener's work is often intensely beautiful, and often awe-inspiring. His drive to express beauty and truth through music was lifelong, and led him through understandings of many religions and ideologies to produce a unique body of work.

John Tavener - a guide website

Critical Acclaim
If you had to pick the soundtrack for heaven, the music of Sir John Tavener would probably feature prominently. — Aidan Goldstraw, Express and Star

After music like this, applause seems superfluous… — Laurence Hughes, The Independent

Moments of transparent beauty and contemplation... — Hannah Nepil, The Financial Times

Arguably, no composer ever wrote better music for solemn reflection - the kind of silence that his work is capable of producing is like no other. — Caroline Crampton, New Statesman

Biography

John Tavener was born in 1944. His musical education took place in the midst of Modernist fervour, a movement of which he felt an instinctive and increasing mistrust. The first work that brought him to widespread attention, The Whale (1966), was premiered in 1968 by the London Sinfonietta at their inaugural concert and released on The Beatles' Apple Records label. 

Although many of his early works were inspired by the mystical aspects of Roman Catholicism, his interest in tradition had led Tavener to believe that the Western Christian Church was a corrupted and corrupting force. Following his conversion to Orthodox Christianity in 1977, Tavener produced a slew of works heavily influenced by Orthodox liturgical texts, Russian and Greek writers and themes, and the Orthodox tone systems. During this period, Tavener had largely cut himself off from the contemporary music scene, withdrawing into himself and his faith in the hope of achieving a clarity worthy of his preferred subjects. 

Throughout his life Tavener suffered periodically from extreme ill health, one serious instance occurring in the 1970s, another in the early 1990s and another in the mid-2000s. In between he continued to write pieces strongly influenced by Orthodoxy and by literature. Though still an Orthodox Christian, the Universalist belief that all organised religions are simply different interpretations of the same underlying forces informed most of Tavener's work of this period and beyond. Emergency heart surgery in Switzerland, followed by many months in intensive care subsequent to the completion of Towards Silence in 2007 halted his progress for a time, and also caused him to withdraw somewhat from spiritual themes. In his final years, he returned to his love of Tolstoy and Mozart, and continued to be deeply influenced by Hindu metaphysical thought. Some of the resulting works are Three Shakespeare Sonnets (2010), La Noche Oscura (2012), Three Hymns of George Herbert (2012), The Death of Ivan Ilyich (2012), and Krishnalila (The Play of Krishna) . 

2007 saw the completion of Tavener's Flood of Beauty, a setting of the Soundarya Lahari, a Sanskrit poem concerning Tavener's perennial theme of the Eternal Feminine. At the end of his life in 2013,
Tavener finished Requiem Fragments which concerned suffering and
existence, another of his perennial themes. 

Click here to read The essential John Tavener - a guide

The music of John Tavener is published by Chester Music Limited.

John Tavener - a guide website

News

Performances

13th November 2020

SOLOISTS
Nicholas Daniel & Andrew Watts
PERFORMERS
Britten Sinfonia
LOCATION
Snape Maltings, Snape, United Kingdom

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