Tavener Schuon Lieder
As the last century drew to a close, Tavener became strongly attracted to the works of the late Swiss philosopher Frithjof Schuon. After 11 years as a Roman Catholic, Schuon became a Sufi at 30 but retained a devotion to the Virgin Mary who, symbolising the Eternal Feminine, continued to be important to both men. It is, therefore, not difficult to see why Schuon’s ideas should appeal, nor how he would come to supersede the Orthodox nun Mother Thekla as Tavener’s muse.
Schuon’s syncretist approach to religion has been reflected in the wider reach of Tavener’s music in recent years. The dominant influence of the Orthodox tradition, and a kind of orbital stasis in relation to an ideal of perfection, had become something of an obstruction to Tavener’s musical development, but Schuon’s example seems to have inspired him to draw in elements from several cultural traditions, with the result that his music has become, as in this work, more colourful and vigorous, if less ethereally beautiful, and sometimes more brittle.
Like the choral Schuon Hymnen, the Schuon Lieder was written in 2003 and centres on poems mostly written towards the end of the philosopher’s 91 years; 19 of these verses, ranging from gnomic, haiku-like aphorisms to ecstatic mystical invocations, are interleaved with dense and very brief (some as short as eight seconds) four-part canons for strings. The Schubert Ensemble play with clarity and precision, and Patrizia Rozario, as ever, serves Tavener’s music with conviction and understanding.