In memoriam: Sir John Tavener

A sad loss to the world of contemporary music, the death of Sir John Tavener yesterday at the age of 69.

Sir John Tavener: 1944-2013
Sir John Tavener: 1944-2013

It’s become something of cliché to write Tavener’s music off as a sort of ‘holy minimalism,’ yet this is to glibly dismiss a music that tapped into a unique corner of the British musical landscape, and one in which the composer’s profound religious faith found articulation in a music that combined striking simplicity with chromatic colours and soaring lines. His music touched the heart of millions round the world when his serene Song for Athene was sung at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales; his rhapsodic, ecstatic, spine-tingling The Protecting Veil achieved widespread popularity under the bow of Stephen Isserlis; his musical language – accessible, yet richly colourful – made him that wondrous thing, a contemporary composer who spoke to many, and gainsayed the argument that modern music appeals only to a tiny elite.

Listen to pieces such as The Lamb, or Today The Virgin, and hear the workings of Tavener’s unique language operating beneath the surface colours – proof, if any were needed, that modern music can touch the heart.

He leaves behind a body of work that affirmed his profoud faith, and affords a glimpse, for his willing listeners, into a realm of reflection and takes them perhaps one step closer to God.

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