A Gentle Spirit, 177, 45' Opera
Akhmatova Requiem, 1980, 50' Soloists and large orchestra
Akhmatova Songs, 1993, 20' Solo voice and small ensemble
The Death of Ivan Ilyich, 2012, 25' Soloists and orchestra
Tavener was received into the Russian Orthodox Church in 1977 by Metropolitan Anthony of Zourozh, the Exarch or head of the Church in the West. Tavener describes him as a ‘considerable spiritual force’ and it was with Metropolitan Anthony that the composer first seriously discussed his disillusionment with Roman Catholicism, and the ensuing psychological and spiritual vacuum into which this had thrown him. By contrast with what he had felt as the proselytising of the Catholic Church, his initial conversations with Metropolitan Anthony made only rare mention of God, the priest instead sharing his faith as a series of anecdotes demonstrating the positive effects of Orthodoxy’s sober perspective.
Tavener later gravitated more strongly toward Greece and its own variant of Eastern Orthodoxy, but his conversion to the Russian Church came about for a number of reasons, a compelling one being the relative isolation of the Greek Church in England at that time; with Metropolitan Anthony as its charismatic leader, the service sung both in English and Church Slavonic, and the chant itself more familiar to Western ears, the Russian division felt more accessible to English converts.
Following his conversion, Tavener became deeply interested in Russian culture, reading biographies of Gogol and Tolstoy as well as quantities of fiction by Dostoevsky, and setting Russian folk songs and the Orthodox Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. This latter work was Tavener’s first serious foray into tradition, written without knowledge of the Russian Orthodox tone system, and was suggested by Metropolitan Anthony as what Tavener later speculated was a rather wily means of rapidly increasing the composer’s familiarity with both the liturgy and the concept of tradition. The latter was certainly achieved by the response of the congregation: Tavener’s setting of a sacred text to music of his own invention, outside the traditional Orthodox musical framework, was not met with enthusiasm. This sudden confrontation with the meaning of tradition caused Tavener to spend a prolonged period unable to write fluently as he questioned the validity of non-traditional art and the egocentric values of Western culture, and sought to understand through experience what tradition is. During this time, Tavener began to travel to Greece, and his association with Greek Orthodoxy strengthened.