Tag Archives: All things considered

Link: John Tavener’s ideas of art and spirit

An NPR story about composer John Tavener, who died this week, contained some interesting ideas about art and spirituality, including this:

For Tavener, music was more a vehicle for spiritual expression than an end unto itself. In a 1999 interview on Morning Edition, Tavener told reporter David D’Arcy, “We seem to have lost our contact with the primordial, the idea of call it divine revelation as opposed to something that’s learned by the human intellect, something that, if you lay yourself completely open and you just open your heart completely, something will actually come into it.”


In 1999, Tavener wrote a piece for the acclaimed vocal quartet and the Chilingirian Quartet called The Bridegroom. Reached Tuesday afternoon by telephone, Anonymous 4 member Susan Hellauer recalled meeting him during rehearsals. “It was almost like he was not the composer, but a new listener,” Hellauer said, “as if he were just experiencing it for the first time. It was a very emotional and spiritual experience for him, not just a musical transaction. He made that very clear.”

Despite critics tagging Tavener as a “holy minimalist,” Hellauer says that his music is very difficult to perform — but very beautiful as well. “It actually floats. It appears out of nowhere, and then it floats back into nowhere,” she said. “It doesn’t have that kind of Western structure of themes and developments. It just is, and then it’s gone. And very well-crafted. His music is not easy to sing. It sounds simple, in a way. There’s not fireworks-type technical demands, but the demands are in sustaining a line, sometimes very long notes, holding the line up for long periods of time, in a very quiet way.”

Tavener once said there are plenty of artists who can show the way to hell. He wanted music to lead us instead to paradise.

I’m not a particularly religious person, but I like the ideas here as they apply to art — works that break the “Western structure of themes and developments,” and artists who “lead us instead to paradise.”