Wednesday, 13 November 2013

In Memory of John Taverner

The English musician John Taverner, one of the most significant composers of our time, has died aged 69. In his latter days he was an unconventional figure in regard to his religious views go (and they underwent considerable development, tending from Presbyterianism to Russian Orthodox and finally, it seems, a sort of eclectic universalism), yet he could reach heights of religious expression few others in our very mediocre times have. Indeed, much modern art across all forms is not just mediocre but nihilistic, something Taverner took a resolute stand against both through the nature of his music and by his occasional public utterances on the subject: "I think there are an awful lot of artists around who’re very good at leading us into hell. I’d rather someone would show me the way to paradise". Interestingly, then, Taverner first emerged out of the hippy scene in late 1960s London, where he was "discovered" by John Lennon and first recorded for the Beatles' label, Apple.  For those not familiar with his work, here is a sampler - his sublime musical setting for another unconventional religious figure's words, William Blake's The Lamb, which will take you to a playlist:

Taverner's musical career began as a youth playing the organ in his Presbyterian congregation. In a late interview he recalled the deep impression made by the preacher, who used to break down in tears during sermons at the apprehension of God's love for us in Christ. We can only hope John Taverner had occasion to hearken back to that preacher's message - God's love for him in Christ - during his last days.    

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