This week I wanted to introduce you to the music of the English composer John Tavener. Recognized as one of the most creative talents of his generation, he wrote music that is deeply introspective, meditative and spiritual. His sacred output was profoundly influenced by the theology of the Eastern Church. Despite having converted to Russian Orthodoxy in 1977, Tavener's music had taken on a more Byzantine sound, blended with his own Anglican tradition. For those who have not been exposed to the music of the Byzantine church, it is important to note a few points. For one, there is no harmony - the music subsists around a drone (usually a low bass note), above which the chant melody is constructed in one of 12 possible scales (or modes). Western Classical music had since retained only 2 (major and minor). All of Western Classical music owes its modal structure to the Greek genius. Tavener seeks to rediscover this wealth of musical paradigms in his music. This allows him to express the feelings of awe, religious ecstasy and mysticism that was a much more prominent part of the Greek and African Churches. The hermits of the first ages of Christianity would often seek visions and a mystical union with God through extensive fasting, prolonged solitude and retreats into remote wilderness (indeed, it is easier to live a destitute life of hermetic contemplation in warmer climates). This transcendence of an out-of-body experience is the space that Tavener seeks to inhibit with his music.
The piece I wanted to share with you today is called "Song of the Angel" for soprano, violin and string quartet. It is a setting of a single word "Alleluia". I hope you find it interesting. For those who want to take a deeper dive into Tavener's music, I'd love to recommend "The hidden face" for strings, oboe and countertenor, and "Svyati" ("Holy") for cello and choir.
Thank you for all your feedback on the blog, dear friends! It is always a pleasure writing these. Please don't hesitate to get in touch with your thoughts and suggestions! And, as always, hope you are well these days! Vlad S.