Sollemnitas in Conceptione Immaculata Beatae Mariae Virginis

Sollemnitas in Conceptione Immaculata Beatae Mariae Virginis

2006, 100' Chorus and orchestra

Solo voice: Soprano | Chorus: SATB double choir, T.2Bar.4B soli| Solo instruments: String quartet, bandir drum

Orchestration: 4tpt.3tbn.btbn | timp.2perc (pow-wow drum, Tibetan temple bowls, hand bells) | org | str (6.6.4.4.2)

Languages: Latin, Sanskrit, Greek, Arabic, Aramaic, German, Italian, Native American

Tavener joyfully described Conceptione as ‘a commission sent from Heaven.’ The messenger was the German organist Christoph Maria Moosmann, whose specific mission for Tavener was no less than a Universalist setting of the Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a request that left very little room for objection. As Tavener himself enthused, it was to his passions for the Orthodox Church, the Hindu doctrine of Advaita Vedanta, the Eternal Feminine, and a profound reverence for the Virgin Mary that his life and work were inclined, and thus the music ‘seemed to explode onto the page.’

The Immaculate Conception is a Roman Catholic dogma according to which the Virgin Mary, though born of natural processes, was herself conceived ‘without stain’ — in Latin macula, thus im-maculata. Though often confused with the virgin birth of Jesus, in which Mary miraculously conceived her firstborn son whilst still a virgin, the Immaculate Conception places emphasis on Mary’s own exemption from original sin and thus her fitness to bear the infant Christ. However, Conceptione seeks to express the radiance of the Eternal Feminine represented by the Virgin Mary, more than her specific embodiment of it. As a force, the Eternal Feminine — the feminine manifestation of God’s benevolence — both descends from Heaven to aid, as mother, and attracts to Heaven, as virgin, thus symbolising both the continuity of human life, and its literal and spiritual nourishment. Though here spoken of with reference to Christianity, as with many of Tavener’s principal spiritual inclinations this concept is common to several traditions.

In Conceptione, Tavener connects this dual significance with the Hindu goddesses invoked during a celebration of the ‘Mother of the Universe’. His use of Latin, Sanskrit, Arabic, Aramaic, Greek, German, Italian and Native American languages expands the scope of worship to encompass multiple approaches, common to all of which is a reverence for the Eternal Feminine in some form. Tavener described the work as having a ‘mosaic-like’ structure, a representation of metaphysical concepts composed of harmonies and melodic ideas. The Magnificat is punctuated by six quotes from Tavener’s 1988 work, The Protecting Veil, underlining the significance of the Immaculate Conception by reminding the listener that it was from the Virgin that Christ inherited his entire human nature. Tavener strongly believed that at a time when religious doctrines are apparently losing relevance, there is an even greater need for each to shed its exclusivity and accept a universal perspective; such a setting of the Mass was thus highly timely.