Sir John Kenneth Tavener (born 28 January 1944) is a British composer, best known for such religious, minimal works as "The Whale", and "Funeral Ikos". He began as a prodigy; in 1968, at the age of 24, he was described by the Guardian as "the musical discovery of the year", while The Times said he was "among the very best creative talents of his generation." During his career he has become one of the best known and regarded composers of his generation. Tavener was knighted in 2000 for his services to music and has won an Ivor Novello Award.
John Kenneth Tavener was born on 28 January 1944 in Wembley, London, England, and claims to be a direct descendant of the 16th-century composer John Taverner. He was educated at Highgate School (where a fellow pupil was John Rutter) and at the Royal Academy of Music, where his tutors included Sir Lennox Berkeley. He first came to prominence in 1968 with his dramatic cantata The Whale, based on the Old Testament story of Jonah. It was premièred at the London Sinfonietta's début concert and later recorded by Apple Records. The following year he began teaching at Trinity College of Music, London. Other works released by Apple included his Celtic Requiem. In 1977, he joined the Russian Orthodox Church. Orthodox theology and Orthodox liturgical traditions became a major influence on his work. He was particularly drawn to its mysticism, studying and setting to music the writings of Church Fathers and completing a setting of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, the principal eucharistic liturgy of the Orthodox Church.
One of Tavener's most popular and frequently performed works is his short unaccompanied four-part choral setting of William Blake's The Lamb, written for his nephew Simon on his third birthday one afternoon in 1982. This simple, homophonic piece is usually performed as a Christmas carol. More important, however, were his explorations of Russian and Greek culture, as shown in "Akhmatova Requiem" and "Sixteen Haiku of Seferis". Later prominent works include The Akathist of Thanksgiving (1987, written in celebration of the millennium of the Russian Orthodox Church); The Protecting Veil (first performed by cellist Steven Isserlis and the London Symphony Orchestra at the 1989 Proms); and Song for Athene (1993, performed at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997). Following Diana's death he also composed and dedicated to her memory the piece Eternity's Sunrise, based on poetry by William Blake.
It has been reported, particularly in the British press, that Tavener left Orthodox Christianity to explore a number of other different religious traditions, including Hinduism and Islam, and became a follower of the mystic philosopher Frithjof Schuon. While he has in recent years incorporated elements of non-Western music into his compositions, Tavener remains an Orthodox Christian, at least in form. In an interview with the New York Times, Tavener appeared to challenge the belief that he was no longer Orthodox. He said: "I reached a point where everything I wrote was terribly austere and hidebound by the tonal system of the Orthodox Church, and I felt the need, in my music at least, to become more universalist: to take in other colors, other languages.". The interview also reports that he "hasn’t abandoned Orthodoxy. He remains devotedly Christian." 
In 2003 he composed the exceptionally large work The Veil of the Temple (which was premièred at the Temple Church, Fleet Street, London), based on texts from a number of religions. It is set for four choirs, several orchestras and soloists and lasts at least seven hours. The 2004 première of his piece Prayer of the Heart written for and performed by Björk, was featured on CD and incorporated as the soundtrack to Jake Lever's installation Centre + Circumference (2008, Wallspace, All Hallows on the Wall, City of London).
In the second television series of Sacred Music, broadcast in the UK on BBC Four on Friday 2 April 2010, Tavener described himself as "essentially Orthodox".
While Tavener's earlier music was influenced by Igor Stravinsky and, to a lesser extent, Olivier Messiaen, often invoking the sound world of Stravinsky's Requiem Canticles and A Sermon, a Narrative and a Prayer and the ecstatic quality found in various works by Messiaen, his later music became more sparse, using wide registral space and was usually diatonically tonal. Some commentators see a similarity with the works of Arvo Pärt, from their common religious tradition to the technical details of phrase lengths, diatonicism and colouristic percussion effects.
Tavener's more recent music has moved away from the transparent simplicity of the 1980s towards a much more harmonically saturated style, in parallel with his pan-religious interests. Such works as Atma Mass (2003) and Requiem (2008) show this particularly well.
Tavener has suffered from considerable problems with his health. He had a stroke in his thirties, heart surgery and a tumour removed in his forties, and suffered two successive heart attacks which have left him very frail. He has Marfan syndrome. His wife, Maryanna, broadcast a charity appeal on BBC Radio 4 in October 2008 on behalf of the Marfan Trust.
Career highlights 
- 1969 - The Whale premièred by the London Sinfonietta and subsequently recorded on The Beatles' Apple label.
- 1971 - Celtic Requiem recorded by Apple.
- 1973 - Thérèse, the story of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, commissioned by the Royal Opera, London.
- 1989 - première of The Protecting Veil at the Proms in London.
- 2000 - première of Fall and Resurrection in St Paul's Cathedral, London (4 January 2000).
- 2000 - received a knighthood in Millennium Honours List.
- 2001 - composed the soundtrack of Werner Herzog's short documentary Pilgrimage.
- 2003 - première of the all-night vigil The Veil of the Temple by the Holst Singers and the Choir of the Temple Church at the Temple Church, London.
- 2005 - première of Laila (Amu), Tavener’s first dance collaboration, with Random Dance company and Wayne McGregor's choreography.
- 2006 - contributed Fragments of a Prayer to the Alfonso Cuarón film Children of Men.
- 2007 - première of The Beautiful Names by the BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra at Westminster Cathedral. The work, sung in Arabic, is a setting of the 99 names of Allah found in the Qur'an. Awarded honorary degree by the University of Winchester.
- 2008 - World premièr of "the anthem" sung in St Paul's Cathedral in the presence of HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.
- March 2009 - The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia presents the world première of Tu ne sais pas, a work for mezzo-soprano, timpani, and strings. Katherine Pracht will sing the texts, which are drawn from poems by French poet Jean Biès, (one of the work's dedicatees), and from Islamic and Hindu sources.
- April 2013 - World premiere of Tolstoy's Creed and Three Hymns of George Herbert as performed by the The City Choir of Washington at the Washington National Cathedral.
Key works 
- The Whale (1966; soloists, speaker, SATB choir, children's choir, orchestra)
- Celtic Requiem (1969; soprano solo, SATB choir, children's choir, ensemble)
- Thérèse, opera, 1973
- The Protecting Veil (1988; cello, strings)
- Mary of Egypt, opera, 1991
- Ikon of the Nativity (1991; SATB choir, a cappella)
- Song for Athene (1993; SATB choir)
- Fall and Resurrection (2000) (Dedicated to The Prince of Wales)
- Lamentations and Praises (2001; 12 male voices, string quartet, flute, bass trombone, percussion)
- The Veil of the Temple (2002; soprano, SATB choir, boys' choir, ensemble)
- Schuon Lieder (2003; soprano, ensemble)
- Laila (Amu) (2004; soprano, tenor, orchestra)
- Lament for Jerusalem (2006; soprano, countertenor, SATB choir, orchestra)
- Towards Silence (2009; 4 string quartets, Tibetan temple bowl)
Sound files 
|In Alium||Soprano, Strings, Tape|
|1993:||"Song for Athene"
|Song for Athene||Chorus|
Selected recordings 
- The Protecting Veil - Virgin 561849-2
- Schuon Lieder - Black Box BBM1101
- The Veil of the Temple - RCA 82876661542
- Songs of the Sky Signum Records SIGCD149
- Boyden, Matthew. The rough guide to opera. Rough Guides, 2002. ISBN 1-85828-749-9
- Sherwin, Adam (18 January 2010). "Not just a blip: Ivor Novello awards to recognise computer game music". Times Online. Retrieved 12 February 2010.
- David Mason. "Greene's biographical encyclopedia of composers". Doubleday, 1995. 31. ISBN 0-385-14278-1
- See p. 30 of Morrison, Richard (November 2004). "99 Names for God: John Tavener Turns his Back on Orthodoxy". BBC Music. Tavener is quoted as saying, "It strikes me now that all religions are as senile as one another."
- McCleery, David. "The Beautiful Names: John Tavener". bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2007-06-22.
- Liz Todd Prince Charles's favourite composer John Tavener in fight for life Daily Mail 09 March 2008
- Michael White A rare meeting with Sir John Tavener, The Times May 1, 2009
- BBC News 27 December 1999 - Music for a new millennium
- The Independent, 20 June 2004 - John Tavener: God be in my head
- BBC Radio 4 Appeal - Marfan Trust
- Amu Review The Independent, September 19, 2005. Retrieved 2010
Further reading 
- Stewart, Michael (2000). "John Tavener Talks to Michael Stewart about the Recent Festival Ikons of Light". Image and Music. Retrieved 2007-05-23.
- Sheahen, Laura. "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". Beliefnet. Retrieved 2007-06-22.