John Tavener

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Various : Spectrum

Thalia Myers, piano
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John Tavener Biography

Sir John Tavener (born 28 January 1944) is an English composer.

He was born in London, studied at the Highgate School in London, and later attended the Royal Academy of Music there, where he studied with Sir Lennox Berkeley.

His dramatic cantata The Whale 1968 was the first performance by the London Sinfonietta and was later recorded by Apple Records. Other works released by Apple included his Celtic Requiem.

In 1977 Tavener joined the Russian Orthodox Church, which became a major influence on his work. He is particularly drawn to the mystical branch of the faith, and has studied the works of the Spanish mystics (for instance St. John of the Cross), often setting their writings.

Later prominent works include The Akathist of Thanksgiving (1988), The Protecting Veil (debuted with cellist Steven Isserlis at the 1989 Proms; released 1992 by Virgin Classics) and Song For Athene (sung at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales). After Diana's death in 1997 he composed Eternity's Sunrise, based on poetry of William Blake, and dedicated it to her memory.

In 2003 Tavener composed his monumental work The Veil of the Temple (performed by four choirs, several orchestras and soloists, lasting seven hours) based upon texts from various religious traditions, including Christian, Hindu and Islam.

While his early music was influenced by late Stravinsky, often invoking the sound world of the Requiem Canticles and A Sermon, A Narrative and a Prayer, his recent music is spare, uses wide registral space, and is often diatonically tonal. Some commentators see a similarity to the works of Arvo Pärt, from the obvious common religious tradition to the technical details of phrase lengths, diatonicism, and coloristic percussion effects. Messiaen was also arguably a strong influence in the early part of his career.

John Taverner was knighted for his services to music in the 2000 New Years' Honours list.

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Sheet music by John Tavener