The composer Sir John Tavener has died

James Jolly12th Nov 2013
Composer Sir John Tavener has died (photo: Simone Canetty-Clarke)Composer Sir John Tavener has died (photo: Simone Canetty-Clarke)

Born January 28, 1944; died November 12, 2013

Sir John Tavener, one of the few classical composers to have gained a large non-classical following, has died. His greatest exposure came when his anthem A Song for Athene was sung at the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997.

Tavener was born in Wembley, north London, and educated at Highgate School and at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1968 his dramatic cantata The Whale brought him attention and was later recorded on The Beatles’ Apple Records label (Ringo Starr's brother, a builder, was working on Tavener's house and brought the music to his brother's attention).

His short anthem The Lamb, setting words by William Blake, became one of his most-performed works – he wrote it one
afternoon in 1982 for his nephew Simon on his third birthday. Tavener’s interest in and, later, admittance into the Russian Orthodox Church was a major influence on his music and resulted in a great number of compositions that included a setting of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom and The Akathist of Thanksgiving.

His cello concerto in all but name, The Protecting Veil, was premiered at the 1989 Proms by Steven Isserlis and soon became a modern classic – the Virgin Classics recording by Isserlis, the LSO and Gennadi Rohzdestvensky won a Gramophone Award in 1992.

Tavener’s output during the 2000s saw him drawing on the teachings of a number of religions including Hinduism and Islam, and he also became of follower of the mystic Frithjof Schuon. In 2003 he composed his largest work, The Veil of the Temple for four choirs, a number of orchestras and soloists. The piece lasts for seven hours.

His music, drawing on a deep vein of spirituality, struck a chord with a huge (and largely 'non-classical') audience and his concerts attracted a truly eclectic following. Managing director of Tavener's publisher, Chester Music, James Rushton, described the composer as 'one of the unique and most inspired voices in music of the last 50 years. His large body of work – dramatic, immediate, haunting, remaining long in the memory of all who have heard it, and always identifiably his – is one of the most significant contributions to classical music in our times. For all of those fortunate enough to have known him, John was a man of strong beliefs, huge personal warmth, loyalty and humour. He will be much missed.'

Tavener was knighted in the Millennium Honours List (2000).

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