Sir John Tavener

Sir John Tavener

Sir John Tavener (1944–2013) Born in London in 1944, to a family in building construction, Tavener went to Highgate School and was trained at the Royal Academy of Music, where he focused on composition. Tavener first came into the public eye with The Whale (1968), premiered by the London Sinfonietta at their inaugural concert and released on The Beatles’ Apple label. (Ringo Starr and John Lennon were friends of Tavener.)

At the age of 24, Tavener was described by The Guardian as “the musical discovery of the year”. The Times called him “among the very best creative talents of his generation.”

In the 1970s, Tavener converted to the Russian Orthodox Church, and cut himself off from the contemporary music scene. Withdrawing into his faith, he hoped to achieve a clarity of language that matched his inner life.

Tavener’s extensive output of mainly religious works won a cult following for its trance-like compositional style. His best-known works include:

  • The Protecting Veil (premièred and recorded by cellist Steven Isserlis, becoming a bestselling­­–album)
  • Song for Athene (performed at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales)
  • Prayer of the Heart, written for and performed by Bjork (2004)
  • The Lamb, used in the award-winning film, The Great Beauty, continues to be performed all over the world.

Suffering from ill health throughout his life, Tavener, in his final years, returned to his love of Tolstoy, Mozart, and Hindu metaphysical thought. He wrote Krishna in 2005, eight years before his death, aged 69. His Orthodox funeral service was held in Winchester Cathedral presided over by Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira.