• John Tavener
  • Shûnya

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Written for Stephen Layton

  • SATB, temple bowl
  • 20 min

Programme Note

'I am not, and you are not, and Brahman (The Absolute) is not, for it (The Absolute) is beyond all speech and thought.'

The Sanskrit word Shûnya literally means 'void'. In the Buddhist tradition this is not a 'nothingness', but rather a vision of Paradise as an ultimate spiritual extinction - an Uncreated Bliss. The 'Supreme Extinction' of Shûnya is both Void and Plentitude. It should be regarded as an intensification or exaltation of all that is perfect and positive, and at the same time, a total negation of all we know.
To express the inexpressible is the intention of the endlessly serene and majestic Buddhist intoning on Shûnya, which is the beatitude of this void (Shûnya), shining in the absence of all darkness. The invocation of Amitabha (Infinite Light) contains both the Saviour and the saved, for Amitabha is one of the non-historical Buddhas who represents their uncreated Bliss. He created Pure Lands and Paradises where his devotees would go, and to speak his name is their bliss.
In this piece I have attempted to express a little of the inexpressible. The music should unfold like a Buddhist ritual. A small group of basses is placed high up in a Triforium or other gallery with a large Tibetan bowl. Their serene tones rain down on the main choir who also intone Shûnya with serenity and majesty, with refrains of 'Namo Amitabha' (Hail Amitabha!) invoking an image of Bliss.
Shûnya is written in memory of Anna Sherrard, and is dedicated to Stephen Layton, in gratitude and appreciation.

John Tavener