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John Tavener

Publisher: Chester Music

Svyati (1995)
commissioned by Cricklade Music Festival
Chester Music Ltd
Chorus a cappella / + 1 instrument
Year Composed
20 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
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Programme Note
John Tavener Svyati (1995)
I began to write Svyati in early 1995: while sketching it, Iearned that John Williams, father of Jane, my dear friend and publisher, was dying. I could not refrain from dedicating it to Jane and to the memory of her father.

The text is in Church Slavonic, and it is used at almost every Russian Orthodox service, perhaps most poignantly after the congregation have kissed the body in an open coffin at an Orthodox funeral. The choir sings as the coffin is closed and borne out of the church, followed by the mourners with lighted candles. The cello represents the Priest or Ikon of Christ, and should play at a distance from the choir, perhaps at the opposite end of the building. As is Greek drama, choir and priest are in dialogue with each other. Since the cello represents the Ikon of Christ, it must be played without any sentiment of a Western character, but should derive from the chanting of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

  • Ensemble
    Moscow Virtuosi / Kiev Chamber Choir / Chilingirian String Quartet
    Patricia Rozario, soprano / Steven Isserlis, cello / Vladimir Spivakov and Mykola Gobdych, conductors
  • Ensemble
    Choir of St John's College, Cambridge
    Timothy Hugh, cello
    Christopher Robinson
A rather mournful, yet radiantly heartfelt work... (Svyati is)... a setting of the texts usually intoned in Russian Orthodox funeral rites, joined here by a solo cello, which wordlessly intoned the role of the officiating priest... The net effect was softly meditative, with the cello's somber lines weaving in and out of the choir's often repetitive choral verses; the vocal textures floated ethereally over a low, rumbling drone from the basses. The capacity audience sat spellbound throughout, as if in a heavenly dream. The supreme moment came at the end, as the cello's incredibly soft, rising tones seemed to say "Amen".
Lindsay Koob, Charleston City Paper,31/05/2012
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