John Tavener (1944-)



Donald Macleod explores the life and music of maverick composer John Tavener.

His name is linked in many people's minds with the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, where his Song for Athene was heard by millions around the world.

Over the years, he has been associated with figures as diverse as the Beatles, Steven Isserlis, Bjork and a Russian Orthodox nun.

The programme focuses on Tavener's first major success, helped by an encounter with John Lennon, two works which brought him increased recognition and a requiem dedicated to a Carmelite priest.

New Beginning (excerpt)

(BBC recording)

Song for Athene

The Holst Singers

Stephen Layton (director)

Decca 4750962 Tr 1

The Whale (Part 2)

Anna Reynolds (mezzo-soprano)

Raimund Herincx (baritone)

Alvar Lidell (Speaker)

John Tavener (organ and Hammond organ)

London Sinfonietta

London Sinfonietta Chorus

David Atherton (conductor)


In Alium (Section 1)

Eileen Hulse (soprano)

Ulster Orchestra

Takuo Yuasa (conductor)

Naxos 8.554388 Tr 8

Ultimos Ritos (1st mvt)

Patricia Rozario (soprano)

BBC Singers

BBC Symphony Orchestra

Richard Hickox (conductor)

Little Requiem for Malachy Lynch

Westminster Abby Choir

English Chamber Orchestra

Martin Neary (conductor)

Sony Classical SK66613 Tr 7.

Donald Macleod focuses on John Tavener's first major musical success.


Donald Macleod explores some of John Tavener's earliest works, influenced by his increasing interest in Greek and Russian religious orthodoxy.

In his early 30s, when Tavener's personal life was in chaos, Father Anthony Bloom, head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Britain, helped him discover a new way of being and introduced him to the importance of the icon in the Orthodox tradition, which would become central to the composer's own life and music.

With a piece described as one of the great religious works of the late 20th century, a selection of Tavener's settings of Russian Folk Songs and three very contrasting works based on the poetry of Anna Akhmatova, WB Yeats and William Blake.

Six Russian Folk Songs (Nos 2, 3, 4)

Elise Ross (soprano)

Nash Ensemble

BBC Radio Classics 15656 91972 Trs 20-22

Dur: 7m06s

Akhmatova Requiem (Parts XVI and XVII)

Phyllis Bryn-Julson (soprano)

John Shirley-Quirk (bass-baritone)

BBC Symphony Orchestra

Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (conductor)

BBC Radio Classics 15656 91972

Dur: 9m46s

To a Child Dancing in the Wind (excerpt)

Patricia Rozario (soprano)

Kathryn Lucas (flute)

Stephen Tees (viola)

Collins Classics 14282 Trs 7-10

Dur: 16m59s

The Lamb

The Sixteen

Harry Christophers (conductor)

Collins Classics 14052 Tr 3

Dur: 3m31s

Ikon of Light (excerpt)

Tallis Scholars

Peter Phillips (director)

Gimell CDGIM005 Trs 5-7

Dur: 11m.

Donald Macleod on some of John Tavener's earliest works, influenced by religious orthodoxy


Donald Macleod explores the importance of John Tavener's relationship with the Russian Orthodox nun, Mother Thekla.

Tavener had an extraordinary bond with his mother.

When he married, Tavener couldn't bear to be parted from her and, not surprisingly, his marriage foundered.

The death of his mother hit him very hard, but not long afterwards another woman was to take her place - a nun called Mother Thekla, with whom Tavener would have a close friendship and unique working relationship for many years.

With a work based on a translation by Mother Thekla of the remarkable writings of a priest, written shortly before his death in a prison camp in Siberia, as well as a complete performance of one of the most frequently performed contemporary works in recent years.

Akathist of Thanksgiving (excerpt)

James Bowman, Timothy Wilson (countertenor)

Martin Baker (organ)

Westminster Abbey Choir and BBC Singers

BBC Symphony Orchestra

Martin Neary (conductor)

Sony Classical SK64446 Tr 8

Dur: 6m54s

The Protecting Veil

Steven Isserlis (cello)

London Symphony Orchestra

Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (conductor)

EMI 2 37691-2 Trs 1-8

Dur: 45m42s.

Donald Macleod explores Tavener's working relationship with the nun Mother Thekla.


Donald Macleod explores how John Tavener begain to broaden his musical horizons, as he gained money and celebrity following the huge success of The Protecting Veil and Song for Athene.

He married again and his new wife had finally managed to persuade him to move out of his childhood home and even to have children.

By this time, Tavener was beginning to broaden his horizons to encompass Sufism, the music of India and the philosophies of Kathleen Raine and Frithjof Schuon.

And he began to incorporate non-Western instruments into his music.

With a selection of works that reflect Tavener's new way of thinking, including part of his seven-hour universal hymn to God.

- The Veil of the Temple.

Eternity's Sunrise

Patricia Rozario (soprano)

The Academy of Ancient Music

Harmonia Mundi HMU 907231 Tr 1

Dur: 10m54s

Fall and Resurrection (excerpt)

Patricia Rosario (soprano)

Michael Chance (countertenor)

Stephen Richardson (baritone)

AdrIan Peacock (bass)

BBC Singers

St Paul's Cathedral Choir

City of London Sinfonia

Richard Hickox (conductor)

Chandos CHAN9800

Dur: 11m27s

Ikon of Eros (2nd mvt)

Jorja Fleezanis (violin)

Minnesota Orchestra and Chorale

Paul Goodwin (conductor)

Reference RR102CD

Dur: 7m30s

Veil of the Temple (excerpt)

The Choir of the Temple Church

The Holst Singers

Stephen Layton (conductor)

RCA 82876661542 CD2 Trs 15-18

Dur: 14m16s.

Donald Macleod explores how John Tavener begain to broaden his musical horizons.

05 LAST*20090925

Donald Macleod concludes his exploration of John Tavener's life and work, concentrating on his most recent music.

Tavener is one of few living composers who can claim to be a household name, though in his later years he has been plagued by ill-health and has dropped out of public view.

Works include a piece inspired by a Hindu saint and poet, a multi-faith requiem and the European premiere of a work for four string quartets and Tibetan Temple Bowl, performed at Winchester Cathedral in July 2009.

Lalishri (excerpt)

Nicola Benedetti (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra

Andrew Litton (conductor)

UCJ 476 619-8

Dur: 8m11s

Requiem (Kali's Dance)

Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano)

Andrew Kennedy (tenor)

Josephine Knight (cello)

Ruth Palmer (violin)

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus

Vasily Petrenko (conductor)

EMI 2351342

Dur: 6m32s

Towards Silence

Medici String Quartet

Court Lane Quartet

Finzi Quartet

Harpham Quartet

Louisa Golden (Tibetan temple bowl)

BBC recording

Dur: 33m17s.

Donald Macleod explores John Tavener's most recent music, including Lalishri.