John (Kenneth) Tavener

English Born 28 Jan 1944

Tavener's calm and thoughtful music has caused him to be called a 'holy minimalist' and has drawn comparisons to Arvo Part and Henryk Gorecki.  But Tavener has written in many different styles, and was also a flower boy of the 60s.  He was born on January 28th 1944 in North London, into a religious family who encouraged his early musical talents.  He won a scholarship to Highgate School, where he was friends with the nascent choral composer John Rutter.  Studying at the Royal Academy of Music, Tavener decided to devote himself to composition rather than performance.  He was conducting the choir and playing the organ at St John's Presbyterian Church at the time, and was very keen on Victorian hymns and religious music. But the magic of the sixties had an effect too.

He composed and conducted his opera The Cappemakers when he was twenty, and his cantata Cain and Abel had been performed by the London Bach Society for broadcast before he had finished at the Royal Academy.  But it was with The Whale in 1968 that Tavener shot to fame.  It used prerecorded tapes, amplified percussion and loudhailers in its telling of the story of Jonah.  After hearing it, John Lennon signed Tavener to the Beatles' Apple label. Also that year In Alium was performed, and was reviewed as a musical love-in by The Guardian the next day.  But Tavener's interest in traditional religiosity inclined him away from trendy techniques.  He joined the Russian Orthodox Church in 1977, and subsequent compositions have been tailored to church liturgy, becoming like "icons with notes rather than colours".

The Protecting Veil (1989), an instrumental piece for cello and strings, resurrected a career that had declined somewhat due to whiskey and writer's block.  It was premiered at the Proms, and went to the top of the classical charts for several months.  The hymn Akathist of Thanksgiving (1994) is regarded by some as Tavener's greatest work, and his fame spread the world over when his choral piece Song for Athene was played at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1998.  In 2000 he was knighted for services to music.

Related composers: RutterBoulez, MessiaenGorecki

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