John Taverner


  • I don't hate pop music. I liked the Beatles, but then, I knew them.
  • I don't think Beethoven expresses religious truth. He expresses a human truth.
  • I think I've been very lucky all my life because the writing and the faith seem to go together.
  • I think there will always be a possibility that God doesn't exist because He is infinitude and into that infinitude must come that possibility.
  • I've always been aware of mortality because I've always had ill health most of my life.portrait of John Taverner
  • I've got great joy from rediscovering Western music. I love Schumann and Chopin, and those amazing symphonies of Bruckner.
  • My consultant keeps telling me sudden death could come at any moment.
  • My way towards God has been to write music.
  • Suffering is a kind of ecstasy in a way. Having pain all the time makes me terribly, terribly grateful for every moment I've got.
  • The path I follow is still an Orthodox path. You have to follow a path; otherwise, it becomes a little bit new-age, a bit of this, a bit of that.
  • Every woman I have known has actually deepened my spiritual awareness. Even if I have been a selfish man and treated them badly... There were two women, I won't name them, who had a powerful religious effect on me. The ancient idea of a muse is there.
  • Hildegard von Bingen conveys spiritual ecstasy, if we're talking of Western music. What bothers me about Western music is that it doesn't have an esoteric dimension in the way the music of the East has, whether it be Byzantine chant, the music of the Sufis, or Hindu music.
  • I used to think there was something dirty about being paid for something which is a sacred thing to do. I can't disconnect the act of writing music from the act of prayer. If anyone tries to stop me working, it feels like someone is trying to stop me from taking communion.
  • I've written a very long piece of music recently, the 'Veil of the Temple,' which lasts about seven hours. It's really a kind of vigil. It takes place during the night, waiting for the resurrection of Christ.
  • The music is something outside myself that's also inside myself... Music and a sense of another presence always went hand in hand. Even when I was three, I would improvise music, and my maternal grandfather would act as an audience and used to applaud. I would imitate things like thunder and rain.
  • The thing I regret most about my life are those inane photos of me with icons. They used to come down here and dress me up, and I just tolerated it. It's my fault. But I shouldn't have done it. They literally brought down costumes, candles, and icons! It was unbelievable stupidity.


John Tavener  was born in Wembley, London on 28 January 1944, died 12 November 2013. He was a British composer, known for his extensive output of religious works, including The Protecting Veil, Song for Athene and The Lamb.

Tavener first came to prominence with his cantata The Whale, premiered in 1968. Then aged 24, he was described by The Guardian as "the musical discovery of the year". During his career he became one of the best known and popular composers of his generation, most particularly for The Protecting Veil, which as recorded by cellist Steven Isserlis became a bestselling album, and Song for Athene which was sung at the funeral of Princess Diana. The Lamb featured in the soundtrack for Paolo Sorrentino's film The Great Beauty.

While Tavener's earliest music was influenced by the sound world of Stravinsky and the ecstatic quality found in various works by Messiaen, his later music became more sparse, using wide registral space and was usually diatonically tonal. Tavener recognised Arvo Pärt as "a kindred spirit" and shared with him a common religious tradition and a fondness for textural transparency.

Much of his music was composed for Greek and Russian Orthodox Church services, and has a “sense of presence”.


Wikipedia - - Taverner website - - Archive on BBC Radio 4


documentary from BBC4  - - interview, 1989 - - 1 hour concert, choir and strings

“The Protecting Veil” cello and orch. - - “Mother and Child” for choir, Tenebrae

“Lament of the Mother of God”, Winchester Cathedral