'The mystical life is the centre of all that I do
and all that I think and all that I write'
William Butler Yeats
John Tavener called Yeats ‘the supreme artist of the 20th century’, and throughout this guide we shall see why the poet’s desire to connect with a reality beyond our material existence resonated so deeply with the composer, and the inextricable impact Tavener’s own spiritual explorations had on his life and work.
Almost all of Tavener’s oeuvre was inspired by either the spiritual or the poetic, or both. The materials from which he worked were to the composer second nature, but to the rest of us often somewhat impenetrable — hence his delivery of them to us as music. However, if one does wish to understand the complex and interlaced influences behind Tavener’s compositions, one can find the intellect being engaged to an exhausting degree. This guide aims to present and clarify these influences and their role in Tavener’s musical evolution, providing an overview of his life and work and, it is hoped, rendering the source material accessible without detracting from its profundity. For although on paper the ideas Tavener sought to express are frequently obscure and complex, they concern all humanity at a fundamental level — one often beyond our conscious understanding, if not our recognition. And despite his insistence that one listen to what he wrote 'as pure music', Tavener would have wished that in understanding the origins of his work, the eyes of an audience might be opened to another perspective on their world: one that looks beyond our immediate reality, and our differences.
The guide is not intended to be read in a linear fashion but dipped into where interest and need dictate. It examines a range of works representative of the various times, beliefs and purposes within and for which Tavener wrote and presents their relationships without undue complexity, in order to give a comprehensive impression of his life’s work.
Each piece may fall under one or many categories, each of which represents a facet of Tavener’s spiritual evolution as it relates to his music. An explanation of each, followed by a list of all the relevant works included in the guide, may be accessed from the image menu above. For each work listed there is a comprehensive note, and the whole is supported by a glossary explaining some of the more obscure terms and references. Lastly, the index by ensemble type allows those seeking works for particular forces to quickly discover which of those included might be appropriate.