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Requiem for Sir John Tavener, 1944-2013
November 12, 2013 6:55 PM   Subscribe

Composer Sir John Tavener has died. Most recently and popularly known for "Song for Athene," performed at the conclusion of Princess Diana's funeral, and for Funeral Canticle which was featured in Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life. His life and work was devoted to music as a search for deeply spiritual expression, having converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in 1977. In his last interview he discussed how he had begun to turn again to some of the Western music he'd previously shunned, and turned his spiritual thoughts to other traditions as well. (What he called the "supreme achievement" of his life, the eight hour long all-night vigil The Veil of the Temple contains Sufi, Buddhist and Hindu texts as well as Orthodox Christian.)

I first heard of him in the early 1990s, when The Protecting Veil was playing in a CD store.
posted by dnash (28 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Protecting Veil was my introduction to him too. He was a wonderful composer. Thanks for posting this.

An article from a few months ago: John Tavener: 'The days of seven-hour pieces are gone'

Official website

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posted by homunculus at 7:07 PM on November 12, 2013


Deeply, achingly spiritual body of work.

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posted by naju at 7:12 PM on November 12, 2013


May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.


[ I highly recommend Harry Christophers and The Sixteens' recording of 'Song for Athene' on their album "Ikon: Music for the Spirit & Soul". ]
posted by grimjeer at 7:20 PM on November 12, 2013


I was sad to hear this today too. The Protecting Veil was my intro to him as well, and remains my favorite work of his.

I hope it's everything you imagined it would be John.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:29 PM on November 12, 2013


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posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:33 PM on November 12, 2013


Here's the Chilingirian Quartet with "The Last Sleep of the Virgin" (SLYT) - The Dormition of the Virgin Mary in Orthodox Christianity, I think.

I've played a few of the sections of The Protecting Veil, scored for Baroque chamber orchestra. I don't think I'd have the endurance for the whole piece, even if someone went to the trouble of transcribing it for obsolete instruments.
posted by Dreidl at 7:34 PM on November 12, 2013


I like this line from the NPR piece I heard tonight: Tavener once said there are plenty of artists who can show the way to hell. He wanted music to lead us instead to paradise.

Here's an NPR search for Tavener pieces, and the referenced 1999 interview (in Real Media format)
posted by filthy light thief at 7:52 PM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


He was something of a weirdo, and he made exquisite music.

Thank you for posting this.

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posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 8:15 PM on November 12, 2013


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posted by misterbee at 8:20 PM on November 12, 2013


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Rest in Peace, and thank you.
posted by jokeefe at 8:29 PM on November 12, 2013


I was in attendance at the premiere of his work Ikon of Eros in 2002 at the St. Paul Cathedral in the twin cities of Minn/St. Paul. I was studying music a half hour outside the cities, and my music teacher, himself a member of the orchestra, commonly passed on his tickets to his students.

My friend and I had problems with the car we were borrowing, and either weather or an accident on the roads delayed us further. We raced in, just a few minutes before the evening began. The harried usher raced us to our seats, but as we were in a cross-shaped cathedral, the row and seat numbers were particularly confusing. She stood next to our seats, looking completely perplexed, as the whole row was full, including those at the end, which should have been ours.

A lady leaned over the gentleman next to her and said in a crisp British accent, "I'm sorry, is there a problem?" The usher peered again at our tickets and drew in a breath when we all noticed him.

Sitting at the end of the pew was a man. A lanky, looming man with a huge hawk-like nose and long forehead. He was wearing a deep maroon smoking jacket that looked like it had been pulled from a crypt. The evening's program, open to his own biography, was clutched in his spider-like, white hands. Interrupted by us, he slowly swiveled his head to peer at us intently.

"Oh NO!" twittered the usher, "there's NO problem at ALL! Because YOU'RE the COMPOSER!" she shrilly sang, shoving us down the aisle. She found an empty pew and pushed us in, just as the lights dimmed.

Ikon of Eros was like nothing I'd ever heard. Tavener's music is an incredible gift, and the man will be missed, despite his music living on.
posted by missmary6 at 8:52 PM on November 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


My introduction to Tavener was "Lament for the Mother of God", which I heard on the radio one night (classic music station in Richmond, VA) and I pulled into my driveway and then sat in the car with the radio on for the next 10 minutes until the piece was over, and then I turned off the car and just sat there for another 20 minutes (for REASONS, okay?!). It was pretty intense and then I had to go find out who it was. I then went straight out the next day and bought a CD of his works and have loved using it to aurally assault people ever since.

The end.
posted by daq at 9:27 PM on November 12, 2013


Come enjoy rewards and crowns I have prepared for you.

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posted by lumensimus at 10:15 PM on November 12, 2013


I have spent many nights with my eyes closed, listening to Tavener. My life has been enriched by his works.

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posted by Doleful Creature at 10:22 PM on November 12, 2013


Sitting at the end of the pew was a man. A lanky, looming man with a huge hawk-like nose and long forehead. He was wearing a deep maroon smoking jacket that looked like it had been pulled from a crypt. The evening's program, open to his own biography, was clutched in his spider-like, white hands. Interrupted by us, he slowly swiveled his head to peer at us intently.

You're an excellent observer, missmary6: he had Marfan's, I heard on the radio tonight.
posted by jamjam at 10:40 PM on November 12, 2013


A younger me sang Taverner's setting of Blake's poem "The Lamb" dozens of times with various choirs. Nape-tingling stuff.

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posted by ZipRibbons at 12:53 AM on November 13, 2013


I personally thought his music was a little over-rated and that his reputation probably benefitted from the resonance his name derived from his earlier namesake. As an individual, though, he was unquestionably among the most affected and pretentious people on the planet, so the world is a little duller for his passing.
posted by Segundus at 1:13 AM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by Vibrissae at 3:47 AM on November 13, 2013


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posted by aught at 5:02 AM on November 13, 2013


My first exposure to Tavener was a recording of Ikon of Eros which I had discovered after briefly meeting violinist Jorja Fleezanis, for whom it was composed. (It was probably a recording of the same concert that missmary6 attended.) I loved the piece - it was both wonderful and refreshing with such an amazing sound and color. It also introduced me to his other works, and The Whale has been on my listening rotation lately.

He will be missed.

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posted by fremen at 5:46 AM on November 13, 2013


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posted by Cash4Lead at 5:50 AM on November 13, 2013


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posted by monkey closet at 6:23 AM on November 13, 2013


Archive.org has some audio and video of performances of Tavener's work, along with some album covers and other non-musical items.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:03 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by mountmccabe at 7:24 AM on November 13, 2013


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posted by en forme de poire at 8:58 AM on November 13, 2013


I was in the topmost gallery of the Albert Hall for the Proms performance of The Veil Of The Temple in 2004. Since I had friends in the choir, I waited by the stage door and was there when Tavener came out, looking delighted and somewhat taken aback by all the applause. I'll never forget that performance, or his extraordinary appearance.

The British music scene has lost a true visionary, and most of my choral-singer friends are mourning today.
posted by Pallas Athena at 11:31 AM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I only recently discovered him, by hearing Song for Athene in the middle of the night and actually making the effort to make a note of the time so I could check the radio station's play list the next day to find out what it was. So far for me not all of his work seems equally approachable, but what I've got my hands on in the first dip into it is bliss, and some of it makes me grin so hard.

Looking forward to following all these links.
posted by you must supply a verb at 2:57 PM on November 13, 2013


Nico Muhly: the power of Tavener's soul music
posted by homunculus at 9:19 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


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