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John Tavener

Publisher: Chester Music

Songs of the Sky (2005)
Text Writer
Traditional Hindu, Zen Buddhist, American Indian
Chester Music Ltd
Solo Voice(s) and up to 6 players
Year Composed
30 Minutes

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Programme Note
John Tavener Songs of the Sky (2005)
Songs of the Sky was written in memory of those killed in the Tsunami. I had already been setting “Haiku” to music when I heard of the human tragedy. The Haiku (verses) seemed so deeply relevant that I decided to begin Songs of the Sky, with a dedication in Latin to the victims of the Tsunami. The eleven short verses have contrasting musical material. The songs come from the American Indian tradition, Zen Buddhism, and the Hindu tradition, the metaphysics of which so deeply understand the “sacredness” of the virgin nature; God inside and above nature; In the final song, a Bengali hymn to the Goddess Kali, the poet prays to her as a “death conquering” Goddess, to “enter in dancing Thy rhythmic dance, That I may behold Thee with closed eyes” All the musical material from the previous ten songs is gathered together in the last prayer. It is as if the fragmented essences of the previous songs have all been gathered together in this fierce but transcendent Hymn to the Goddess of Death. The use of long silences and dying sounds is integral to the cycle.

Score sample

  • Ensemble
    Britten Sinfonia
    Signum Classics:
  • 19 SEP 2009
    Leicester International Music Festival
    New Walk Museum, Leicester, UK
    Nicholas Daniel (oboe), James Gilchrist (tenor), Anna Tilbrook (piano)
  • 03 FEB 2007
    Songs of the Sky World Premiere
    Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh
    Charles Daniels, tenor; Nicholas Daniel, oboe; Julius Drake, piano

    Other Dates:
    8 February - The Assembly House, Norwich, Norfolk
    4 February - Philharmonic Hall, Krakow, Poland
    6 February - West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge

Tavener’s long cycle Songs of the Sky also refers, oddly, back to earlier English music – the ‘Song of the Ghost Dance’ reminds me, entirely unexpectedly, of both Britten and Vaughan Williams, and ‘Nothing lives long’ very insistently of Britten. For these texts, from American Indian, Buddhist and Hindu sources, one imagines that the composer must have felt impelled to find a very particular vocabulary, or even possibly have felt completely free and unmoored; the more curious, then, the music’s utterly English, frequently rhapsodic, quality. It’s a quality that certainly suits Charles Daniels’s voice: I’d like to hear more of him in English song (note that I hereby place Tavener firmly within this category!).
Ivan Moody, International Record Review,01/06/2009
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