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Remembering John Tavener (1944-2013)

Orthodox theology and Orthodox liturgical traditions became a major influence on Tavener’s work. He studied and set to music writings of Church Fathers even the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the principal Liturgy of the Orthodox Church.

His explorations of Russian and Greek culture, as shown in Akhmatova Requiem and Sixteen Haiku of the modern Greek poet George Seferis, were important. Later prominent works include The Akathist of Thanksgiving, The Protecting Veil, and the Song for Athene (1993) on a text by Mother Thekla, a Russian Orthodox abbess who was Tavener’s long-time spiritual advisor up until her death in 2011.

His seemingly ‘multi-cultural’ side had an aesthetical and not religious motivation; he was trying to enrich his writing of music. In an interview with The New York Times Tavener said: “I felt the need, in my music at least, to become more universalist: to take in other colors, other languages.” He reported at the time that he “hasn’t abandoned Orthodoxy, he remains devotedly Christian.” Speaking on the BBC Four television Tavener described himself as “essentially Orthodox.” He recognised Arvo Pärt as “a kindred spirit”, that he shared with him a common religious tradition and a fondness for textural transparency.

Tavener died on 12 November 2013 at his home in Child Okeford, Dorset, aged 69.


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