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John Tavener

Publisher: Chester Music

Three Hymns of George Herbert (2012)
Commissioned by the Legatum Institute [] as part of its “British and American Notions of Liberty” programme, in the year of the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Text Writer
George Herbert
Chester Music Ltd
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
15 Minutes

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Programme Note
John Tavener Three Hymns of George Herbert (2012)
The Three Hymns of George Herbert were written after a long illness, and represent for me a Hymn of thanksgiving to God for a relative return to health. They are intended to be sung in a large, resonant acoustic, with the main choir and string orchestra at one end of the building, and an echo choir and string quartet at the other. The percussion (tubular bells, gongs and tam-tams) should sound from a gallery or other raised position.

The Hymns were inspired by the transparent poetry of George Herbert, and are dedicated in
gratitude and love to the memory of Mother Thekla, former Abbess of the Orthodox Monastery ofthe Assumption, Normanby, near Whitby, who died in 2011.


From a gallery:
Percussion (2 players): Tubular bells, 3 gongs 2 tam-tams, small, medium, large medium, large

From a distance:
Echo choir SATB (soli or a small semi-chorus, (may be taken from the main choir)
String quartet (may be taken from the orchestra)

Main platform:
Main choir SATB
Strings (minimum players, not including string quartet)

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The first, “Heaven,” made some simply ravishing sounds; each line was sung out in a shining arc and left suspended in the air, punctuated by an echo from the chorus in the balcony and then nudged by the gentle plosive chimes of bells. The final hymn, “Life,” was touched with a bittersweet hint of dissonance, like frost petals. It ended with a postlude in which instruments tangled, slightly chaotically, at a distance, perhaps to evoke the withered bouquet of flowers the poem describes...
Anne Midgette, The Washington Post,23/04/2013
...his new work is bold, laced with a rush of richness and radiant harmony that seems to float outside of time – the raised voices answered by bells and an echo choir high in the back balcony. Literally, an uplifting experience and a dialogue across time with the 17th century English poet and country pastor, George Herbert.
Jamie Stiehm, USNews,22/04/2013
The first Herbert poem is an echo in which the first, third, fifth and seventh line is answered with a rhyming echo on the second, fourth and sixth lines. The choir and orchestra is up front in the traditional place in the crossing. Then there is an echo choir in the balcony so there is this dialogue back and forth between the two performing groups. [...] you certainly can have an incredible experience listening in the nave to this dialogue back and forth. That’s an example of how the cathedral becomes an instrument in the performance, as does the reverberation. It is all proving to be very exciting!
Patrick D. McCoy, Washington Life Magazine,19/04/2013
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