• John Tavener
  • Feast of Feasts (1995)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the Al Bustan Festival, Beit Mery, Lebanon

  • perc:handbells.tub bell.lg gong.lg tamtam[org]
  • SATB
  • 2 sopranos, 2 tenors, bass
  • 30 min

Programme Note

For the Orthodox, Pashcha, Easter or Christ’s Rising from the Dead is the Feast of Feasts.

We begin in the tomb. Christ is harrowing Hell. Then we hear “Rise O God, and judge the earth”. The Church is plunged into darkness, and the choir begins singing as the congregation, clergy and choir move in procession outside the church carrying lighted candles. Then in three languages – Greek, Church Slavonic and English – we hear the Proclamation ‘Christ is Risen’. There follows a fevered singing of the Gospel ending “…and he saw, and believed”. The processional singing continues, until yet another outburst of ‘Christ is Risen’. Next, the voice of Christ calls Mary Magdalene: ‘Mary’. What can be more alien from love than a prostitute’s sale of her body? The mystery is unfathomable. And yet it was Mary Magdalene who was granted this first vision of the Risen Lord. ‘Raboni’, or ‘Master’ she cries as she prostrates in front of Him. Christ is indeed risen from the dead, and ‘to those in the tomb, He has given life’. Part of the Catechetical Address of St John Chrysosstom is then sung, almost as a dance of joy, after the choir has sung ‘let us in joy embrace one another’… And so we do, in actuality on Easter Night. Because at this ‘Feast of Feasts’ no one is left out. ‘Let no one fear death, for the death of the Saviour has freed us’.
‘Christ is risen from the dead’.

The music subsides and we hear the music of Paradise until it fades beyond our ears. And then the lone voice of The Mother of God: ‘Be it unto me according to Thy Word’. It is call to come back to earth, to take up the cross again and again, to accept suffering, to accept failure, to accept total abandonment, like a warrior fighting his way through the regiments of the unseen enemy towards what has been prepared for us in the Feast of Feasts.

The promise is great but so too the responsibility. Bluntly: we must crucify ourselves before we can begin to live. Then only, somehow, stumbling under the weight of sin, dead but alive, we follow – to the Feast of Feasts.

John Tavener
15 January 1996

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