Tavener, Sir John Kenneth

Tavener, Sir John Kenneth tăv´ənər, –nə [key], 1944–2013, English composer, b. London; studied Royal Academy of Music. Tavener, whose work shows a consistent but evolving tonal or modal style and often a marked simplicity and spirituality, is known principally for his requiems, canticles, hymns, and liturgical cantatas, which he called icons with notes rather than colors. Largely slow-moving, intense, and accessible to a wide audience, his music was influenced by the tonal system of the Orthodox Church (he joined the Russian Orthodox Church in 1977) and by various traditional styles including Indian ragas, Byzantine chants, Middle Eastern works, and Native American music. His compositions also have close ties to Eastern European minimalism and are part of a mystical strain that also marks the work of such composers as Arvo Pärt, Henryk Górecki, and Giya Kancheli.

Tavener first came to wide public attention with his composition The Whale (1968), which employs a collage of prerecorded tape, amplified percussion, and chorus. After a comparatively dry period in the 1970s during which he listened to and absorbed many kinds of music, he developed a new musical style that emphasized the mystical and the sacred, and his work flourished during the 1980s and 90s. Among his best-known works are Orthodox Vigil Service (1984), for chorus and handbells; The Protecting Veil (1987), a cello concerto; Akathist of Thanksgiving (1987), for soloists, chorus, strings, and timpini; the opera Mary of Egypt (1991); Song for Athene (1993), for choir; and Total Eclipse (1999), a cantata scored for vocal soloists, boys' choir, baroque instruments, brass, Tibetan bowls, and timpani. The Veil of the Temple (2003) is a seven-hour musical vigil that draws on Christian traditions of the East and West and is performed by a large chorus, vocal soloists, organ, brass and percussion ensembles, Tibetan horn, temple bowls, and Indian harmonium. Tavener was knighted in 2000.

See his The Music of Silence—A Composer's Testament (2000); biography by G. Haydon (1995).

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