John Tavener's music was performed as part of MIF13. For more information, please visit the event page by following the link in the left hand panel.
John Tavener was born in 1944. His musical education took place in the midst of Modernist fervour, a movement of which he felt an instinctive and increasing mistrust. The first work that brought him to widespread attention, The Whale (1966), was premiered in 1968 by the London Sinfonietta at their inaugural concert and released on the Beatles’ Apple label.
Although many of his early works were inspired by the mystical aspects of Roman Catholicism, Tavener’s interest in tradition had led him to believe that the Western Christian Church was a corrupted and corrupting force. Following his conversion to Orthodox Christianity in 1977, Tavener produced a slew of works heavily influenced by Orthodox liturgical texts, Russian and Greek writers and themes, and the Orthodox tone systems. During this period, Tavener largely cut himself off from the contemporary music scene, withdrawing into himself and his faith in the hope of achieving a clarity worthy of his preferred subjects.
Throughout his life, Tavener has suffered periodically from extreme ill health; one serious instance occurred in the 1970s, another in the
early 1990s and another in the mid-2000s. In between, he continued to write pieces strongly influenced by Orthodoxy and by literature. Though he remains an Orthodox Christian, the Universalist belief that all organised religions are simply different interpretations of the same underlying forces has informed most of Tavener’s work of this period and beyond. Emergency heart surgery in Switzerland, followed by many months in intensive care after the completion of Towards Silence in 2007, halted his progress for a time, while also causing him to withdraw somewhat from spiritual themes. Recently, he has returned to his love of Tolstoy and Mozart, and he continues to be deeply influenced by Hindu metaphysical thought. Some of the works that have resulted of late are Three Shakespeare Sonnets (2010), La Noche Oscura (2012), Three Hymns of George Herbert (2012), The Death of Ivan Ilyich (2012) and Krishnalila (The Play of Krishna).
Post MIF, Tavener was preparing Flood of Beauty, a setting of the Soundarya Lahari, a Sanskrit poem on Tavener’s perennial theme of the Eternal Feminine; and Requiem Fragments, concerning another: suffering and existence. He was also developing music based on Scottish folk songs. Sir John Tavener passed away on 12 November 2013.
The music of John Tavener is published by Chester Music Limited.