The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: British composer Sir John Tavener is dead at 69. He made being old-fashioned new again. | November 16, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

I know of two composers who seem like throwbacks to older time – very old times at that – and yet who stir passionate loyalty among lovers of contemporary classical music.

One is Sir John Tavener (below, in a photo by Simone Canetty-Clarke) and the other is Arvo Part.

john tavener Simone Canetty-Clarke,

Both seemed to draw inspiration from older forms of choral music, all the way to early chant and church music.

Both became quite popular, at least by the standards of contemporary classical music as compared to pop, rock, blues, and jazz. Tavener’s early work was even released on the Apple record label by the Beatles and by Sir Paul McCartney, who seems to have a good ear for whatever will catch on.)

But The Ear could never figure out why local groups, especially the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the UW Choral Union – to name a few prominent local music groups – never performed more of their choral and instrumental works since both composers seem to connect widely with and resonate deeply with the public.

True the composers were hardly avant-garde or cutting edge, especially in their pursuit of an apparently old-fashioned spirituality and devotional kind of music.

But a lot of beauty, maybe even most of it that passes the test of history, in art is not cutting edge.

All this comes by way of introducing the fact that this past week, the British composer Sir John Tavener (below, at home composing in a photo by Steve Forrest for Insight-Visual), who found his abiding musical and spiritual roots in the Russian Orthodox Church, died this past week at 69 after a long period of protected illnesses.

John Tavener composing Steve Forrest Insight-Visual

Here is a roundup of some of the best stories The Ear could find on the web:

Here is a comprehensive obituary from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/13/arts/music/john-tavener-dies-at-69-composer-with-eye-on-god.html?_r=0

Here is a wonderful story that was done by the outstanding NPR classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence”:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/11/12/244788638/remembering-holy-minimalist-composer-john-tavener

Here is an obituary from Gramophone, the well-respected British classical music magazine:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/the-composer-sir-john-tavener-has-died

And here is the story of one listener’s growing appreciation of Tavener’s music:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/classicalmusic/10447276/John-Tavener-how-I-came-to-love-his-music.html

Did you know and like or dislike the music of Sir John Tavener?

Do you have a favorite piece of his? (Perhaps the “Funeral Canticle” that was used in the critically acclaimed 2011 film by Terrence Mallick “The Tree of Life” and  remains his most popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Ear wants to hear.

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1 Comment »

  1. Comment by Laura Burns — November 17, 2013 @ 10:06 pm


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