MUSICTEACHERS.CO.UK VOLUME 2 ISSUE 12, JUNE 2001  
Online Journal

EDEXCEL ADVANCED LEVEL NOTES

JOHN TAVENER: THE LAMB


Born in London in 1944, John Tavener's musical style can be said to be unlike that of any other British composer. Whilst many contemporary composers seem interested in pushing the limitations of tonality, investigating complex metrical and structural patterns or experimenting with textural issues using electronics, Tavener's music has become increasingly oriented towards Orthodox Christianity since his conversion in 1977. Thus many works absorb the techniques of Orthodox liturgical composition: homophonic parallel harmonies are employed alongside monodies accompanied by drones and, importantly, both Russian and Byzantine chant.

Much of his musical (and personal) philosophy can be characterised by these excerpts from the periodical Fanfare, March 1999: 'John Tavener and Paul Goodwin talk to Martin Anderson'.

On the nature of inspiration:

I don't believe that any music which is prefabricated by humans exists at all. This is not an eccentric point of view – it's the view of the Church Fathers. Any idea that is worked out in a human way does not exist. So that would distance me totally from all Scholastic theology: the whole western idea of man-made techniques, like sonata form, fugue, canon – useless...unless, of course, it's performing a metaphysical function.

On musical formulas:

We've got to do away with formulas, because abstract music means nothing anymore. It has gone too far. Humanism has gone so far that the bubble has burst, and we have rotting apples of humanism. Masterpieces they may be, but I cannot bear the sound of them, particularly Berg...the whole of Schoenberg – not Webern: he's a mystic. And Mahler already going down: the Second Symphony has nothing to do with the Resurrection at all.

On his use of serialism in his composition Fallen Resurrection:

I might use serialism now, as I do for a big piece, which starts in a very complicated way, called Fallen Resurrection...I begin that piece in chaos. I had to find a way to represent chaos... It's so complex that I thought, Thank God I don't write music like this! It took me about six weeks to write one page. But I had to get to that level of complexity, metaphysically speaking, for God to love the world into being...It's so complex that you can't hear it. So I think if I use it for a metaphysical reason, that's one thing, but serialism on its own for me is nothing – except Stravinsky, who was able (like Webern, in a different way) to transubstantiate what is basically human.

On Bach:

For me the music that will put me to sleep – I'm talking metaphorically, all the time – is Bach.

On Baroque music:

…everything Baroque I dislike intensely. It's all rather frivolous and over-decorative; it [working with Baroque instruments] reintroduced me to the music of Handel, particularly the oratorios and the operas, which I didn't know, so I've been listening. And I must say, since a lot of what I've said about the music of the West [is] that it doesn't interest me any more (and that on the whole is true), I often now spend the evening with some wine and listening to Handel and I'm amazed at the spontaneity, the apparent simplicity of all of it, the apparent lack of effort, which is something I feel exists in all Western music.

On intellectual music:

Music has become so arty, art for art's sake, in a sense beyond the intellectual critics or the other composers who write the same sort of music – I don't see what purpose it has in the world.



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