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John Tavener

Publisher: Chester Music

Kaleidoscopes (A tribute to Mozart) (2005)
Chester Music Ltd
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
30 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
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Programme Note
John Tavener Kaleidoscopes (A tribute to Mozart) (2005)
I have always regarded Mozart as the most sacred and also the most inexplicable of all composers. Sacred, because more than any other composer that I know, he celebrates the act of Being; inexplicable, because the music contains a rapturous beauty and a childlike wonder that can only be compared to Hindu and Persian miniatures, or Coptic ikons.

So, in my work Kaleidoscopes, I have attempted to pluck Mozart’s music from out of the harmony of the spheres, so to speak, and to meditate on it through four main cycles, moving through the tonal zones of D and B, G and E, C and A, then F and D, returning to the harmony of the spheres from whence it came, over a pedal D.

In a sense all the music has its source in Mozart, whether recognisable or not. Various rhythmic, harmonic and contrapuntal ideas are common to all the different essences, as is the ordering of the note patterns.

The solo oboe should be placed in the middle of the performance space, with the four quartets spaced around him in north, south, east and west directions, as far apart as is practicable. The oboist, who plays almost without stopping throughout, may also direct the performance.

John Tavener

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John Tavener describes Mozart as “the most sacred and also the most inexplicable of all composers”. Kaleidoscopes, Tavener’s anniversary homage to his predecessor, commissioned by Nicholas Daniel and the Britten Sinfonia, is an attempt to “pluck Mozart’s music out of the harmony of the spheres and to meditate on it”. It is a 40-minute work for solo oboist who is surrounded by four string quartets, together with a couple of double basses to prevent the harmony becoming too stratospheric, and some percussion to add a gentle aura of tintinnabulation. The musical material is all derived from Mozart. Some of it is fleetingly recognisable, but more of the time the quotes are morphed into jagged, motoric figuration or long, plainchant-like melodies…
Andrew Clements, The Guardian,09/11/2006
The opening feels like a stairway to heaven, as the oboe climbs stepwise over violins repeating transparent harmonies in an ever higher register; gently-touched bells give the edifice an even brighter sheen. It’s as though a camera is panning round a sculpture; then we cut to cacophonous aural chaos. Then back to serenity, with the oboe embarking on a melodic line which seems to have no ending; then chaos again. Clearly much ingenuity has gone into the tonal construction of this work, and the four quartets saw away with intricate precision: […] Mozart made fleeting appearances through echoes from his concertos, always gracefully skewed; as my ears attuned to the chaos, I realised that too was finely calibrated. Tavener has found the ideal vehicle for his mystic polarities. […] ‘Kaleidoscopes’ is a game of smoke and mirrors, but what a game it is, with the oboist finally walking off into the darkness, leaving the audience in a stunned silence: as Daniel and the Sinfonia resplendently showed, it demands virtuosity from all concerned.
Michael Church, The Independent,09/11/2006
…pictorially, the spectacle was unusual. Imagine a solar system. Slap in the centre on a podium stood Daniel and his oboe. Circling around them, like attendant planets, sat four string quartets, […] From the stage’s left-hand corner emerged two double basses, […] and the massaging percussion of temple bells. What solar system was this? I’m not sure, but it was clearly one created by Mozart – “the most sacred and also the most inexplicable of all composers”, according to Tavener’s programme note. Mozart quotations and echoes filled the score, mused upon in chains of short sequences, each rotating round their own cluster of keys.
Geoff Brown, The Times,08/11/2006
Sir John Tavener deserves more respect. The British composer's ``Kaleidoscopes,'' given its world premiere in London last night, should hasten that day.[…] A mixed audience of young and old gave the tall and angular Tavener -- dressed in his trademark black velvet jacket and flowing scarf -- an ovation after the premiere of ``Kaleidoscopes,'' a tribute to Mozart, at Queen Elizabeth Hall.[…] Tavener's musical mosaic is written for the Britten Sinfonia. It features the sort of unusual percussion he has favored in recent works, a large gong and Tibetan temple bowls. They fit in with four string quartets placed ``as far apart as possible.'' The music slowly moves from a tonal D through the scales before settling back to a closing pedal D. Along the way, there are contrapuntal dynamics recalling the noisy parts of Tavener's 2005 ``Pratirupa.'' Oboist Nicholas Daniel stood at the center last night, directing the performance. He played throughout in the way the cello sings through Tavener's ``The Protecting Veil.'' Daniel received an ovation for his 40-minute virtuoso performance, though inevitably the greatest applause was for Tavener himself. Copyright Bloomberg 2006
Mark Beech, Bloomberg News,07/11/2006
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