John Tavener: Song for Athene

Luminous Voices is excited to not only cohost The Tallis Scholars, but also sing with them! We will be singing John Tavener's Song for Athene when the award-winning ensemble finishes its tour of the US and Canada in Calgary on Tuesday 24 April.

About John Tavener

John Tavener (1944-2013)

John Tavener (1944-2013)

Sir John Kenneth Tavener was one of the UK's leading composers of religious works.

Tavener first came to prominence in 1968 with his dramatic cantata The Whale, based on the Old Testament story of Jonah. It premièred at the London Sinfonietta's début concert, which was also the opening concert of the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Other works of note is his A Celtic Requiem, which impressed Benjamin Britten enough to persuade Covent Garden to commission an opera from Tavener: the ultimate result, to a libretto by playwright Gerard McLarnon, was Thérèse.

He could bring an audience to a deep silence which is a very rare gift. He believed that music was for everybody and was a prayer.
— John Rutter on John Tavener

Tavener's earliest music invokes the sound world of Stravinsky and the ecstatic quality found in various works by Messiaen. His later works, however, were influenced by Orthodox theology and liturgical traditions. He was particularly drawn to its mysticism, studying and setting to music the writings of Church Fathers and completing a setting of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the principal eucharistic liturgy of the Orthodox Church: this was Tavener's first directly Orthodox-inspired music. Tavener recognised Arvo Pärt as "a kindred spirit" and shared with him a common religious tradition and a fondness for textural transparency.

Song for Athene

John Tavener’s Song for Athene, written after the unexpected death of a family friend, Athene Hariades, became embedded in the public consciousness after it was performed at the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997. The sincerity and impact of the words, fashioned from a fusion of Orthodox ritual and Shakespeare, together with its radiantly optimistic, alleluiatic conclusion, struck an instant chord with a grieving public.

  • VIDEO: Watch and listen to the choir singing Tavener's Song for Athene at the funeral of Princess Diana at Westminster Abbey on 06 September 1997.