Without mentioning his music I find a great deal to admire in John Tavener. He suffered a lifetime of ill health – including a stroke in 1980, a heart attack in 2007 and Marfan syndrome. Diagnosed in 1990 this resulted in an operation, after which he was critically ill and it effected him all his life. Despite this he managed to produce a large body of work and become a significant voice in classical music.
He started out as a radical, coming out with a flourish by being noticed by the Beatles and having two works released on the Apple label in the 1970s, thereby giving himself a burst of fame.
Yet the 80s found him swimming against the tide in many ways. Deeply spiritual (itself unfashionable unless you’re into eastern religion) he became interested in Roman Catholicism and later converted to the Greek Orthodox Church, He wrote a work called The Beautiful Names a mediation on the 99 names of Allah on 2007 and was known for his universalist approach to religion.
He abhorred what he called subjectivity, which I interpret as the cult of the self on which we have all be fed since birth and
his ideal relationship with his spirituality as it’s expressed in his music is that he should be a channel through which the music flows, with as little impediment from the predilections of his own personality as possible. “I wanted to produce music that was the sound of God”.
Could you get less fashionable? This got him labelled as a “holy minimalist” a category which one obituary thought
condemned some of his more accessible works to choral music collections of Relaxing Classics
Clearly he was a man who marched to his own drum. Personally I’m not worried whether I agree with his philosophy and beliefs. Music is visceral for me and if it speaks to me then that’s all I need to know. Tavener’s work does just that and I am grateful for it.
Try listening to The Protecting Veil on Music online.