2003, 60' Solo voice and up to 6 players
Solo voice: Soprano | Orchestration: str quartet.pno.4 temple bowls
Lieder are an originally German song form in which poetry, often with romantic or pastoral themes, is set for a single singer with piano or orchestral accompaniment. The text of lieder usually influences the character of the music more than in other vocal genres, and here it has also influenced its texture, with Schuon Lieder being scored for string quartet, piano and four Tibetan temple bowls in addition to soprano voice.
The use of the bowls is a reflection of the metaphysical nature of the text: 19 poems by the Swiss philosopher and poet Frithjof Schuon, chosen from among more than 3,500 written in his lifetime. The vast majority of these were composed in his final years, and in German.
Schuon was one of the foremost proponents of Traditionalism, a school of thought also termed Perennialism which focuses on the fundamental metaphysical concepts common to all religious traditions, and which encourages their internalisation in order to detach from material concerns.
Tavener was introduced to the work of Schuon and his fellow Traditionalists Ananda Coomaraswamy and René Guénon in the late 1990s, and felt an immediate connection with ideas he had at an embryonic level nurtured for many years. Though his initial contact with Schuon’s writing was through his dialectic essays, Tavener was equally impressed by Schuon’s gift for poetry, in which he admired the writer’s child-like attitude to God and the very prevalent feminine dimension – an emphasis common to both men. Schuon, a Sufi, believed that the profound was best approached with simplicity.
Tavener’s settings are likewise spontaneous responses to Schuon’s poetry, each based on a series of 25 notes that Tavener described as ‘musical mirrors of Divine Love.’ The songs are separated by one or more canons for string quartet based on material from the preceding songs. Tavener regarded Song XII as the focal point of the work, setting as it does a poem Schuon wrote when the unhappy conclusion of a love affair encouraged him further toward God.