Such piercing beauty: John Tavener’s The Lamb, a choral setting from William Blake.
The British composer John Tavener died in early November and there are s everal tributes to him online.
Tavener’s is an essentially spiritual music, but in a much more intellectuallyfearless way than his detractors think. He wanted his music to tap into a region beyond conventional understanding – “I wanted to produce music that was the sound of God. That’s what I have always tried to do” – but increasingly, his music offered doubt and darkness in its evocation of that unknowable vastness instead of a comforting musical palliative.
In 2007, Tavener suffered a heart attack in Switzerland that almost killed him. When he recovered, he was living in a new world of constant pain and shortness of breath. He found himself responding instinctively to music of terse difficulty that had previously not attracted him – late Beethoven, Karlheinz Stockhausen – and rediscovering the music that had inspired him to become a composer as a child, Stravinsky and Mozart.
When I last saw him, Tavener spoke of his recent music, such as his version of Tolstoy’s nihilistic The Death of Ivan Ilyich, which was premiered at this year’s Manchester Festival, as epiphanies of pain transfigured into music.