• John Tavener
  • Ikon of St Seraphim (1988)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the St. Endellion Festival

  • 2tpt.2tbn+2btbn/tam/str
  • SATB
  • countertenor, 4 basses, 2 violins
  • 30 min
  • Mother Thekla
  • English, Greek

Programme Note

Saint Seraphim of Sarov is a famous Orthodox figure. He spent some time in the Monastery at Sarov in Russia but then retreated into a forest where he spent fifteen solitary years as a hermit, his only companions being the animals and birds. In 1825 he returned to the Monastery and his fame and humility resulted in a steady stream of visitors from all walks of life to whom he gave spiritual guidance, even in some cases performing miracles. Sarov became a place of pilgrimage and remained so until the 1917 revolution.

I have sought in eight distinct steps or pitches, encompassing the eight tones on which the Byzantine services are constructed, to show the three lines of Saint Seraphim’s life; the growth of his inner life of holiness, the most dramatic rendering of the outward events and, underlying these two elements, the line of the world struggling in prayer. A group of male voices, solo violin, bass trombone and large tam-tam perform the Jesus prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner) in Slavonic throughout. Saint Seraphim is represented by a Baritone, the Devil by a Counter-tenor. The main chorus narrates the story and the orchestra consists of trumpets, trombones, timpani and strings.

Ikon of Saint Seraphim was commissioned by the St Endellion Festival with financial assistance from South West Arts. The first performance was given by the St Endellion Festival Chorus and Orchestra with Stephen Varcoe (baritone) conducted by Richard Hickox on 7 August 1988 at the Collegiate Church of St Endelienta. A second performance was given the following day in Truro Cathedral. This work is written in honour of the Millennium of the Russian Orthodox Church. The text is by Mother Thekla, Abbess of the Orthodox Monastery of the Assumption, Normanby, Yorkshire.

John Tavener July 1988