Sell Cleverness, Buy Wonder:
The Music of Sir John Tavener

Composer Tavener, a devout Orthodox Christian, believes that neither music nor religion can be exclusive.

Sir John Tavener is famous for the eclectic musical influences he brings to his compositions, whose themes are unwaveringly Christian. His most recent work, "Lamentations and Praises," on the death of Christ, uses instruments as diverse as bass trombone, Byzantine monastery bell, and Tibetan temple bowl. But as he explains in this Beliefnet interview, he looks to other religious traditions for more than just new sounds.

Which composers and musicians of the past do you feel communicate religious truths most beautifully in their music?

I think one has to go back quite a long way, if one's talking about communicating religious truths. One has to go right back to chant. Hildegard von Bingen conveys spiritual ecstasy, if we're talking of Western music. What bothers me about Western music is that it doesn't have an esoteric dimension, in the way the music of the East has, whether it be Byzantine chant, the music of the Sufis, or Hindu music.


Even when the musicians are writing Masses--like Beethoven?

I don't think Beethoven expresses religious truth. He expresses a human truth. I mean, something like the Agnus Dei of the Missa Solemnis--I can't take all the raging and the dramatic titanism of it: Agnus Dei, qui tollis, qui tollis, qui tollis peccata mundi--and then the kettledrums rolling. That kind of humanism for me doesn't convey any sort of religious truth at all.

Of course, there are moments in Bach that I think do. Probably less so in the specifically religious music, but in the unaccompanied cello suites, or the opening of the St. Matthew passion, which is absolutely wonderful, the most extraordinary, mysterious sound.

Which Bible passages resonate most with you?

Obviously, St. John, because it is in a sense the most esoteric. Some people say you can't use esoteric as applied to Christianity, but I think you can. St. John is the most extraordinary, the most mysterious, the most mystical. I love particularly the last discourse Jesus has with his disciples: "In my father's house are many mansions. If it were not so I would have told you." And "I am the true vine, my father is the husband."

leave comments
Did you like this? Share with your family and friends.
comments powered by Disqus