Tuesday, November 12, 2013

John Tavener - The Lamb




The composer, Sir John Tavener, has died at 69. I remember him addressing the first Temenos Conference at Dartington Hall in 1986. Every inch the composer of a sacred music, a music that he felt as his vocation to write. The conference featured a concert of his music including this 'The Lamb', his setting of the poem by Blake, the first piece of his music that I ever listened to, matching the text's illuminating simplicity with a luminosity of its own.

Of his talk, I recall most vividly a remark of his about Stravinsky saying that much of his music, the latter in particular, was rooted in a thorough and respectful understanding of traditional chant (both in Western, Catholic and Orthodox forms). In that sense, Taverner saw Stravinsky as a 'traditionalist' upholding a sacred view of the human: one that sat uncomfortably with the 'romantic primativism' of his youth. In saying this, I sensed, he had his own youth in mind - the avant garde composer giving way to yet something more orderly yet radical - a renewal of sacred forms - and yet too giving a nod to the importance of youthful invention and liberation. It was Stravinsky's 'Rite' that had brought me to music and awakened my ability to listen, an ability being exercised right there and then.

His capacity for self-renewal was evident in his journey - his conversion to Russian Orthodoxy, under the remarkable guidance of Metropolitan Anthony, broadening out to embrace a commitment to the 'sophia perennis' reflected in his engagement with the work of Frithjof Schoun and his incorporation of the musical motifs (and instruments) of the 'Orient'. The Truth was one to be seen reflected through the prisms of authentic traditions of which Orthodoxy was his.

What abides with me from that talk was his singleness of mind, dedication, and illuminating passion and, I confess too, his introducing me to the work of Arvo Part, his closest contemporary.

May he dance in eternal harmony.  

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