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November 13, 2013


Yes, it was a shock. Somehow it seems that certain people should be with us for ever, their contribution to our lives being so great. then comes the shock, that they are as mortal as the rest of us. Saddening.

Riveting Diana exit clip, it moves from ethereal to surreal. What is the red outlined square on the cathedral floor?

I must confess I've ignored Tavener, and for no good reason. It seemed fashionable to be mildly dismissive about him, possibly because of his religious convictions. In my case I was put off by the views of people more readily associated with pop and who talked about him in terms of "cross-over".

That you were moved to tears by "that jarring and yet perfect juxtaposition" caught my attention since as I get older music and musical associations increasingly have this power over me, sometimes under the oddest of circumstances (eg, a ballad singer singing a very simple accompaniment to Burns' "A man's a man for a' that." as the great and the good of Scotland trooped through the streets of Edinburgh to celebrate the opening of the Scottish parliament in 1999. Climaxing - the tears running freest, now - when the Scottish MPs, in their lovely new chamber, joined in the final verse. Politicians singing! I never imagined... And yet it was a day of hope and democratic national identity and I'm a sucker that too)

Sorry about that lengthy parenthesis yet when you added "words by Blake" there was no way I wasn't going to play the clip. With predictable results. But I must thank you for your role as musical intermediary, leaving me yearning vainly for a shred of what you felt as you experienced the music "from inside" in the choir. A privileged position and we're lucky you blog about it. Do I go on too much? Well I'll be trying some other Tavener clips this afternoon and that will be the result that matters.

Tom -- yes, death comes to us all, even the so-called Immortals. Sobering.

Mike - it's the British memorial to the Unknown Soldier.

Roderick - please let me know what you think. I don't like "The Lamb" nearly as much as some of his other works (don't connect with that text) and I don't like Tavener as much as, say, Arvo Part. I think his music will last, though, because of its ability to move us. And I greatly admire and am inspired by the man.

Thanks so much, Beth. One thing that struck me during the long peal of bells is how on earth they managed to capture on mike the chlunk of the closing of the hearse door after the coffin was put it it. Do you suppose they edited that in? No footsteps or other smaller noises and then that noise. The things the mind fastens on... at such times, even at great remove...

In answer to Mike's query above, it is the site of the "Grave of the Unknown Warrior".

Vivian, the description said that the bells pealed for three hours (!!)
Yes, I wondered about that sound too. Depends where the mikes were, and how much editing was done, I suppose. But the finality of it hit me too -- and then the hearse all alone, driving through the streets, with people incongruously clapping -- but what else could they do?

The coverage was well shot, no doubt well planned. I imagine they might have aimed a directional mike at the hearse just to capture the sound of the door closing. Volume up at the right moment, bingo. Thanks for answering my question. It just popped out....didn't think to google it myself.

Beth: Hmmm, see what you mean. A certain freshness can attach to a short dose of Tavener as was the case for me with The Lamb; this seems to diminish with Tavener en masse. I subsequently listened to Hymn to the Mother Of God in single form and double form and began to feel oppressed by the narrow dynamic and tonal (correct adjective?) ranges. Parts of it sounded like smoothed-down plain-song (plain-chant? - the Gregorian stuff, anyway) but lacking that type of music's austerity and sense of purpose ended up as small beer. This was alleviated a little in the double Hymn which is launched via tenor solo, but once it became choral the problems returned.

Switching to Yo-Yo Ma with the Baltimore SO (The Protecting Veil: Dormition, etc) I found the intervention of the dissonant strings quite a relief.

Interestingly although the Alleluia played in the Abbey was equally "narrow" the greater sense of orchestral texture compensated. It was closer to real music or, since I'm hardly the one to judge, what I take to be real music.

You say he will last because he can move us. As an arrant newcomer, stepping in where wise men never go, I would say "comfort us". However I feel, heretically, that music has a wider role than this. I never came away from hearing my mother's LP of the monks at Solesmes with the impression I'd heard music "lite". Part? I've never heard enough to judge. But this is my pure indolence.

Beth, I'm very glad you've called attention to Tavener. He was a lifelong friend and contemporary of Philip Pilkington, the pianist (my friend whom I took you and Jonathan to meet him and his wife Minkey when you were last in London). John and Philip were teenagers together at the Royal Academy of Music and remained close always. His death was not unexpected but is still devastating for his family and friends, of course. I met Tavener a few times, an impressive, ethereal figure to look at but very easy to talk to. An extremely interesting person.
His music, I'm uncertain about - it never moved me quite as much as it should have, except for one concert held in Westminster Cathedral (not the Abbey). I think I wrote a blog about it at the time, must look for it. And I will listen to more of his compositions.

I briefly took composition lessons with him, soon after I left university (I had listened to his "The Whale" and was very impressed by it back then). I didn't know him long but the man I met was both thoughtful and helpful. He's the only person who ever gave me a lift in a Rolls Royce.

Thank you for sharing this. And to think I had never even heard of him.

I like that final quote very much.

There's an interesting documentary film about him: 'Beyond the Veil'. We have it on DVD and it's still available including on (US) amazon. Worth watching, quite hypnotic, and I found the whole matter of his embracing/converting to Greek Orthodoxy fascinating. I lack the knowledge and talent to comment much on his music; a little like Natalie I often don't feel quite as moved as I feel I should be, or as Robbie implied that somehow it's not 'big' enough for what it's trying to be. Yet some of it does hit the spot, and over all his life and work are inspiring and remarkable. A sad loss.

Decades ago, on an early Sunday morning run, I took a route behind a cathedral and heard "The Lamb" being sung. I abandoned my run to listen at the open windeows. (I learned what the piece was fron an usher at the door.) It literally stopped me in my tracks.

And what a rare glimpse of the gift of suffering, about which I have always wondered, How can that be? How is it done?

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.