The Kennedy Center

John Taverner



Biography

The English composer John Kenneth Tavener was born on Jan. 28, 1944 in London. Tavener, who born into a musical family, began composing as a child.  He then attended Highgate School, where he studied piano, organ, and composition, states Oxford Music Online. There, he wrote Credo and Duo Concertante (both 1961). These compositions not only brought Tavener to the attention of Stravinski, they also helped Tavener win a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in 1962. There, he studied piano with Solomon and composition with Lennox Berkeley and Lumsdaine.  Also while at the Academy, Tavener's "opera The Cappemakers and the song cycle Three Holy Sonnets of John Donne were performed, and he won the Prince Rainier III of Monaco Prize for his cantata Can and Abel," states Oxford Music Online.

When his cantata The Whale, based on the story of Jonah, premiered in 1968, Tavener was recognized as a burgeoning talent. His reputation grew with subsequent compositions, including In Alium (1968) the Feast of St. John Damascene (1969), and Celtic Requiem (1969). Celtic Requiem, which combines children's games with rites for the dead, was recorded for the Beatles' Apple label. In 1969, Tavener also served as a professor of composition at Trinity College.

Tavener entered a period in which his music was influenced by Roman Catholicism, according to Oxford Music Online. The most famous of his works from this time is Ultimos Ritos (1972), which was performed with the choir in the shape of a cross. Other compositions from this time include Canciones españolas (1972), In memoriam Igor Stravinsky (1971), Requiem for Father Malachy (1973), and the opera Thérése (1973 - 6).

Tavener was received into the Orthodox Church in 1977, an event that impacted his music, according to Oxford Music Online. His compositions reflected the liturgical music of the Orthodox Church and later explored Greek and Roman culture. Significant compositions from this period include: Akhmatova Requiem; Sixteen Haiku of Seferis; The Akathist of Thanksgiving (1987); The Protecting Veil  (1989), which was performed by Steven Isserlis; and Song for Athene (1993), which was performed at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. The Protecting Veil, an orchestral work, became a best-selling classical CD, and the CD Svyati was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 1997.

Tavener had heart surgery in 1991, an experience that influenced his next compositions The Last Sleep of the Virgin (1991) and The Apocalypse (1991-2). Tavener's later works continued to garner critical and public success. They include Acclamation for the Millennium, which was performed at the opening of the Millennium Dome in Greenwich in 1999, the Veil of the Temple (2003), which was based on texts from several religions; and Prayer for the Heart (2004), which was featured on CD and was part of the soundtrack to Centre + Circumference (2008, All Hallows on the Wall, London).

Tavener has received numerous honors for his work. He received a knighthood in recognition of his work in 2000 and has appeared in the New Year's Honors List. Also, in 1994, the year of his 50th birthday, a Tavener festival was held in London 

Tavener has struggled with ill health for much of his life. He currently suffers from Marfan syndrome and has been unable to work since 2007.

Tavener is one of Britain's most significant and popular living composers. His music is unique, not only in its methodology but also in its spiritual explorations.
John Taverner

Compositions

  • Quemadmodum
  • Mater Christi