WFIU’s featured composer for February is John Tavener.
The Times (London) described Sir John Tavener as “among the very best creative talents of his generation.” Born in 1944, he received his earliest education at Highgate School—which also counted fellow British composer John Rutter among its students—before advancing to the Royal Academy of Music, where his tutors included Sir Lennox Berkeley. It was here that he was first exposed to the music of Olivier Messiaen and Pierre Boulez.
Tavener began incorporating religious references in his music early in his career. During his time at the Academy, he won the Prince Rainier III of Monaco Prize for his cantata Cain and Abel, and The Whale (1968) was based on the biblical story of Jonah. By 1969, Tavener was teaching at Trinity College, where he completed his Celtic Requiem.
In 1977, Tavener joined the Russian Orthodox Church. There, he started exploring the history of the Church Fathers and their mysticism for inspiration. He began to move away from Messiaen as a source of inspiration, looking more toward the music of Stravinsky. He wrote a Magnificat, which further strengthened his tendency toward stasis and ritualism rather than expressionism. His Akhmatova Requiem (1980) was an expression of Tavener’s successful marriage of serially derived music and Orthodox liturgy.
Tavener is known best for his choral music, which is often inspired by ancient Greek history. The secular song cycle Sappho: Lyrical Fragments is the first example of his experimentation with a more lyrical approach. Ikon of Light, for choir and string trio, represents Tavener’s attempt at an overall integration of chant-derived melodies with simple harmonies.
WFIU will feature the music of John Tavener throughout the month of February.