Sir John Tavener: tributes paid to celebrated composer - 'a true original'

Tavener's publisher praises 'gentle, funny, kind, strong-willed and beautiful', while composer Michael Berkeley calls him a 'mystic'

Fond and heartfelt tributes were paid to Sir John Tavener, after the death at 69 of one of Britain's most celebrated composers.

Tavener, who earlier in the week had been on Radio 4's Start the Week, was particularly known for works that reflected his deep religious and spiritual beliefs.

The mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly said: "I am very shocked by his death. Since his heart attack I think he was acutely aware of time, rethinking his philosophies and his musical style. I will miss his good spirits and warm friendship but I reckon that heaven will be ringing with temple bowls right about now."

James Rushton, managing director of his publishers, Chester Music, said Tavener was a unique, inspired, voice. "His large body of work – dramatic, immediate, haunting, remaining long in the memory of all who have heard it, and always identifiably his – is one of the most significant contributions to classical music in our times. For all of those fortunate to have known him, John was a man of strong beliefs, huge personal warmth, loyalty and humour."

The composer and broadcaster Michael Berkeley tweeted: "Deeply saddened. He was a true original, in every way – a mystic. He'll be much missed."

Roger Wright, the controller of Radio 3 and director of the BBC Proms, said: "The death of Sir John Tavener robs the classical-music world of one of our most powerful and individual voices.

"On a personal note, it is my privilege to have known and worked with John for more than 30 years and shared many occasions that I will always treasure."

His publisher, Gill Graham, said: "It a sad day. I worked closely with John for 11 years and he was a true inspiration to me. He was a gentle, funny, kind, strong-willed and beautiful man. He and his wife, Maryanna,were good friends to me. I will miss him terribly."

Tavener was a friend of Prince Charles, currently in India. A Clarence House spokesman said: "The Prince of Wales was saddened to hear of the death of John Tavener."

Tavener established his reputation in 1968 with his oratario The Whale and he went on to compose works such as The Protecting Veil and The Lamb. He became known to a far wider audience when his Song for Athene was the final music at the funeral of Diana, princess of Wales; and his work A New Beginning saw in the new century when it was performed at the Millennium Dome.

The cause of death has not been confirmed although Tavener suffered from poor health throughout his life, including a stroke in 1979 and two heart attacks later in his life. His publishers said Tavener died peacefully. He is survived by his wife, Maryanna, and three children.

The oboist Nicholas Daniel said: "John Tavener wrote three great works for me, and as I count myself fortunate to call him my friend the news of his death today has come as a deep shock and with terrible sadness. My thoughts are with Maryanna and his beautiful children. I do feel gratitude that he was amongst us for as long as he was, his suffering for the last few years must have been very trying.

"My first encounter with his music, as with many people, was The Protecting Veil, which was the only piece I could bear to listen to after my mother died in horrendous circumstances. I didn't even know what it was about but it affected me as though I had been afforded a profound blessing.

"The great works he wrote for me still stand as huge achievements in our repertoire. One of my students once told me that he listens to The Hidden Face with the incomparable Michael Chance, in his dark times and always feels calmed and healed by it.

"Although absolutely aware of the commercial realities of life and with one eye always and quite rightly happy to embrace the next good opportunity, John's connection with his God was a wonder to witness, as was his beautiful erudition.

"The breadth of his spheres of understanding is wider than anyone looking from afar realized, he was one of the best read and most inspiring people I have ever had the pleasure to spend time with, and a great scholar. I miss him already but I have a strong feeling that many of us would be happy to see the view where he is right now, with his hair blowing in the wind."


Mark Brown

The GuardianTramp

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