• John Tavener
  • The Protecting Veil (1988)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the BBC for the 1989 Promenade season

  • str(min
  • cello
  • 43 min

Programme Note

The Feast of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God was instituted in the Orthodox Church to commemorate her appearance in the Church at Vlacherni (Constantinople) in the early tenth century, possibly 902.

At this time of grave danger for the Greeks from Saracen invasion, Andrew, The holy fool, together with his disciple Epiphanios, during an All-Night-Vigil, saw the Mother of God; she was standing high up above them in the air, surrounded by a host of saints. She was praying earnestly and spreading out her Veil (stole) as a protective shelter over the Christians. Heartened by this vision, the Greeks withstood the Saracen assault and drove away the Saracen army.

The Feast of the Protecting Veil is kept by the Orthodox Church in celebration of this event.

In my piece entitled The Protecting Veil for cello and strings, I have tried to capture some of the almost cosmic power of the Mother of God. The cello represents The Mother of God and never stops singing throughout. One can think of the strings as a gigantic extension of her unending song.

The music falls into eight continuous sections and use is made of the eight Byzantine tones. Various Feasts were in my mind as I composed; for instance the second is related to her birth, the third section to the Annunciation, the fourth to the Incarnation, the fifth (which is totally unaccompanied) to her lament at the foot of the cross, the sixth to the Resurrection, the seventh to her Dormition, and the first and last sections to her cosmic beauty and power over a shattered world. The PROTECTING VEIL ends with a musical evocation of the tears of the Mother of God.

Having said all this, it is perfectly possible to listen to The Protecting Veil as ‘pure’ music but I think that it may be helpful if I recount what was in my mind during the composition. It is an attempt to make a lyrical ikon in sound, rather than in wood, and using the music of the cellist to paint rather than a brush. The music is highly stylised, geometrically formed and meditative in character.



Tavener: The Protecting Veil: I. The Protecting Veil
Tavener: The Protecting Veil: II. The Nativity of the Mother of God
Tavener: The Protecting Veil: III. The Annunciation




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