Voices from Russia

Monday, 25 November 2013

John Tavener: An Obituary

00 Requiescat in Pace. 19.11.12

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John Tavener, born on 28 January 1944, one of the leading composers of his generation, died on 12 November, aged 69. Tavener’s music underwent a transformation. In his youth, when he had something of the playboy image about him, the Beatles championed him, but his conversion to Russian Orthodoxy led him to write works that were contemplative and spiritual by nature. Like many composers, Tavener’s career had its highs and lows. The première of his rhapsody for cello and strings, The Protecting Veil, at the Promenade concerts in 1989 became one of the best-selling classical recordings ever. However, that was only nine years after a requiem he wrote, based on poems about the victims of Stalin, provoked a steady stream of people to head for the exit at the Royal Albert Hall at the Proms.

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Tavener was an instantly-recognisable figure. At 6ft 6in, he sported shoulder-length, blond hair and had skin like parchment. Sadly, he suffered ill-health throughout his adult life. As a child, he learned to play the piano without formal tuition. He spent his summer holidays in Sussex, where at the age of 12 he went to Glyndebourne and heard Stravinsky’s Canticum Sacrum ad honorem Sancti Marci Nominis (Canticle to Honour the Name of St Mark), which he regarded as the pinnacle of 20th-century music, “The piece woke me up and made me want to be a composer”.

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From 1962, he attended the Royal Academy of Music, where he studied composition under Lennox Berkeley. He first came to prominence with an oratorio, The Whale, based on the biblical story of Jonah. It had its first performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1968 during the inaugural concert of the London Sinfonietta. The work required eight percussionists, who had to move between drums, bells, gongs, a football rattle, and amplified metronomes. For five minutes, the score allowed the musicians to play whatever they wanted. This captivated the Beatles’ drummer, Ringo Starr, and his colleague, John Lennon, arranged for its recording on the group’s record label, Apple.

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Tavener joined the Orthodox Church in 1977. He wanted to write an accompaniment to an eighth-century liturgical poem, but first he had to get permission from one of the translators, Mother Thekla, the abbess of a Greek Orthodox monastery in North Yorkshire. In time, she provided the libretti of several of his works. On his 50th birthday in 1994, the BBC devoted four days to a festival of Tavener’s works, transmitted from Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, and the Barbican. In 1997, his Song for Athene was part of the Westminster Abbey funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. One of his short works débuted in the Millennium Dome on New Year’s Eve, 1999; a larger scale oratorio, dedicated to the Prince of Wales, received its first performance in St Paul’s Cathedral in 2000.

25 November 2013

Richard Anthony Baker

The Stage

http://www.thestage.co.uk/features/obituaries/2013/11/john-tavener/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=john-tavener

 

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

John Tavener, Composer and Seeker, Dies at 69

00 Michael Taylor. Sir John Tavener. 12.11

Sir John Tavener

Michael Taylor

2001  

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British composer Sir John Tavener, whose career was boosted with the help of The Beatles and who often is remembered for the elegiac song performed as Princess Diana‘s coffin was carried out of Westminster Abbey, died Tuesday. He was 69. Tavener’s publisher, Chester Music, said he died at his home in Child Okeford, southern England. Born and trained in London, Tavener composed the beautiful Song for Athene… reworked as Songs of Angels… that caught the public’s mood at Diana’s funeral. His wistful elegant setting of William Blake’s poem The Lamb (1982) became a staple of Christmas carol services. Tavener once said, “I think there are an awful lot of artists around who’re very good at leading us into hell. I’d rather someone would show me the way to paradise”.

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An imposing figure, Tavener was strikingly tall… 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 metres)… thin, and wore his hair long. James Rushton, managing director of Chester Music, called Tavener “one of the unique and most inspired voices in music of the last 50 years. His large body of work… dramatic, immediate, haunting, remaining long in the memory of all who have heard it, and always identifiably his… is one of the most significant contributions to classical music in our times”. Quiet passages that seemed to shimmer like dawn light, and other-worldly intensity and moments of ecstasy distinguished Tavener’s music. He spoke of some compositions arriving instantaneously in his mind, saying in his 60th year, “If one is going to create this eternal celestial music, one has got to listen, to be silent, to hear the angel of inspiration dictate”.

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Tavener was born on 28 January 1944, into a music-loving family in North London. At an early age, he began to improvise and compose at the piano. As a teenage organist in a Presbyterian church, he conducted adventurous modern works including Michael Tippet’s A Child of Our Time, Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, and Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Abandoning an ambition to be a concert pianist, Tavener studied composition at London‘s Royal Academy of Music. His 1968 cantata The Whale brought him fame with the help of The Beatles, who released it on their Apple records label. Tavener said that he caught the attention of John Lennon and Yoko Ono at a party by playing a tape of his opera, Notre Dames des Fleurs, inspired by Jean Genet’s novel about a prisoner’s sexual fantasies. The opera… which later became lost… featured obscene lyrics, a choir, and what Tavener called his “thunderous” performance on the organ. Lennon offered a recording deal the next day, Tavener said, but it needed another Beatle to get The Whale to market. Tavener said in a BBC interview, “It took Ringo, who’s a lot more pragmatic than John. Ringo actually brought out The Whale and Celtic Requiem. The Whale was a piece written by an angry young man … because the world didn’t see the cosmos in metaphysical terms”.

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Tavener’s later better-known works flowed from his conversion to Orthodox Christianity and his collaboration with Mother Thekla, a Russian émigré and Orthodox nun to whom he turned for support after his mother died in 1985. Thekla’s short The Life of St Mary of Egypt inspired his 1992 opera, Mary of Egypt, and she provided many of the librettos for other works. The fruits of their collaboration included The Protecting Veil in 1987, Song for Athene (1993), The Apocalypse (1993), Fall and Resurrection (1999), and We Shall See Him as He Is (1993). Tavener dedicated his book The Music Of Silence: A Composer’s Testament (1999) to Mother Thekla, saying, “she helped me put my music and my life together”. Their collaboration ended in the early years of the 21st century as Tavener’s interests spread beyond Orthodoxy to embrace the insights of other traditions. She died in 2011.

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His marriage in 1974 to Victoria Maragopoulou, a dancer, effectively ended after eight months, although they formally divorced only a decade later on grounds of non-consummation… Tavener later said that wasn’t true. Tavener suffered many health problems. He once said, “Almost every piece I write is, in a sense, kind of viewing death in different lights”. He had the genetic disorder Marfan syndrome, suffered a stroke at 30, and in 1991 had difficult surgery for a leaking aortic valve. Maryanna Schaefer jolted him out of his self-absorption, supported him in his recovery, and later became his wife in 1991. Tavener said in an interview for A Portrait, a Naxos recoding, “After that, I thought, what is this whole thing about my precious art? I can’t do this, I can’t have children, I can’t do that, and I can’t do the other thing because of my precious art. Suddenly, I thought… right, away with all this, this is total nonsense. This is living in the most ridiculously self-centred arrogant way. Of course I can have children”. The couple had two daughters, Theodora and Sofia, and a son, Orlando, who survive him.

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Tavener ranged widely in geography and spirituality in his pursuit of what he described as innocence. He said in an interview with Beliefnet, “I hear it in Sufi music with the ney flute. I see it in Coptic icons, in most traditional art, particularly art of the American Indian. I find the texts extraordinarily beautiful and very childlike and very simple”. The Veil of the Temple (2002), a seven-hour work to be performed overnight, was an attempt “to remove the veils that hide the same basic truth of all authentic religions”. He wrote in a programme note, “It begins for instance in the words of the Sufis, and ends in the Hindu world, with the Upanishad Hymn. The ‘Logos‘, that mysterious substance inside the Godhead, reveals itself in many forms, whether it be Christ, Krishna, or ‘the word made book’ in the form of the Quran“.

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He wrote many of the solo parts in his works for the Indian-born soprano Patricia Rozario. He was drawn, he said, to “the ecstatic quality of her voice”. He found something like that in the “savage, untamed quality” in the voice of Björk, the Icelandic pop star for whom he wrote Prayer of the Heart (2004). She also introduced him to an Apache medicine man; an encounter that Tavener said provoked a vision that night that “all traditions lead to the centre, which is God”. Prince Charles championed Tavener’s work, and the composer received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 2000 for services to music. Daniel Jaffe, reviews editor at the BBC Music Magazine, said, “He was an extraordinary British composer whose music will stand for some time”.

12 November 2013

Robert Barr

Jill Lawless

Associated Press

http://news.yahoo.com/john-tavener-composer-seeker-dies-69-175240574.html

 

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