• ob/str
  • Countertenor
  • 9 min

Programme Note

La Noche Oscura (The Dark Night) was composed in July 2012 at Tavener’s family home in Child Okeford, Dorset. The work is dedicated to his two daughters, Theodora and Sofia.

It sets a selection of text from the forty-verse Spanish poem, Canciones entre el alma y el Esposo (Songs between the Soul and the Bridegroom) by St John of the Cross (1542–1591). This vivid poem is further brought alive by Tavener, with an undeniable shining intensity in the symbiotic oboe and voice, underpinned by majestic string writing.

At the end of the first song, Tavener sets the words ‘Tell him I suffer, grieve and die’ with a nod to the slow movement from Beethoven’s final string quartet, Opus 135: String Quartet No. 16 in F Major (1826). He was greatly influenced by the music of Beethoven, particularly in his latter years, and was well known for understandably pondering his own mortality, due to his ill health. This phrase adjusts the listener in readiness for what the second section brings.

Tavener subtitled the work ‘A Spiritual Canticle’ – the music that follows in the second part, setting the anguished words of Lamentations 5:1–6, 19–22, appears as an expression of our humanity, with all its sinfulness and tragedy, and a reflection of the knowledge that we are ever in search of being seen by God when we know we have not been our best selves. As the piece closes, we are returned to the phrase ‘Decidle que adolezco, peno y muero/Tell him I Suffer, grieve and die’, this time delivered with ‘utmost tenderness’ by the singer, who for the first time communicates to the listener without the oboe. He is now solitary, sotto voce, and near his end.  

K.J., June 2021