The Eternal Feminine
The Protecting Veil, 1988, 20' Soloist and orchestra
Mary of Egypt, 1991, 100' Opera
The Myrrh-Bearer, 1993, 40' Chorus and orchestra/ensemble
Schuon Lieder, 2003, 60' Solo voice and small ensemble
Sollemnitas in Conceptione Immaculata Beatae Mariae Virginis, 2006, 100' Chorus and orchestra/ensemble
The Play of Krishna, 2012, 15' Soloists and orchestra
The Eternal Feminine is a concept describing the feminine manifestation of divine energy, and always had profound significance for Tavener. He claimed that his spiritual understanding was deepened by every woman he had ever known, and that a greater emphasis on the feminine is needed to redress the current imbalance of masculine energy dominating modern culture. In his own music, Tavener strove to balance the masculine and the feminine, and at one time he felt strongly that all his best music was written about the Mother of God, simply because, as he stated, ‘I love her.’
The form taken by the Eternal Feminine differs among religious traditions, but is common to all. In Western Christianity, this form is the Mother of God, also referred to as the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ; in Eastern Christianity, Mary exists as Theotokos (‘bearer of God’), but alongside the invariably feminine personification of Sophia, or Holy Wisdom. In Hinduism, the feminine Shakti is the primordial creative and motive energy that powers all life, and the word ‘spirit’ in many languages takes the feminine gender.
Where certain traditions hold a place of high esteem for the feminine, Tavener felt that, at least in the West, our increasingly secular societies retain little regard beyond the sentimental for feminine qualities, associated as they have been throughout history with negative portrayals of women as weak and incapable of rational thought and action. Though the positive effects of feminism have to an extent shifted these images, Tavener believed that the movement had in some ways unwittingly perpetuated their connotations in making an enemy of femininity, encouraging women who aspire to equality with men to cultivate their masculine traits rather than emphasise and value the inherent strength of the feminine. Though masculinity and femininity may not meet on equal terms, in almost all ancient traditions they are regarded as equally powerful and necessary to the balance of life.
Many of Tavener’s works surrounding this concept and including voice were written for soprano Patricia Rozario, with whom he first worked on Mary of Egypt (1991). Though classically trained in Bombay and London, Rozario is capable of singing microtonally and with a quality that Tavener described as ‘primordial and ecstatic.’ Tavener also represented the feminine with solo cello writing in a number of works including Kyklike Kinesis (1977), The Protecting Veil (1988), Akhmatova Songs (1993), Requiem (2007), and The Death of Ivan Ilyich (2012); and with solo violin in Hymn of Dawn (2002), Mahashakti (2003), and Lalishri (2006).