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John Tavener

Publisher: Chester Music

Eis Thanaton (1986)
Text Writer
Andreas Kalvos
Chester Music Ltd
Opera and Music Theatre
Sub Category
Chamber Opera
Year Composed
50 Minutes
Soprano, Bass
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Programme Note
John Tavener Eis Thanaton (1986)

Kalvos’ poem To Death is about the experience of the loss of life and of total eclipse darkening all man’s existence. It is at the same time an ode to the poet’s mother. Her death is the symbol of this overwhelming loss, just as her life is the sy mbol of innocence and blessedness. She becomes The Mother, whose arms are always open to the child when he flies from the bitter rods and endless torments of the world: she stands in fact for all that is opposite to the world of rational consciousness, political programmes, ‘enlightenment’ and culture. In the music the first part represents ‘groaning humanity’. Through The Mother, the Ikon of Sorrow turns into an Ikon of Resurrection.


Eis Thanaton was written in memory of my mother. After her death, I decided that I no longer wanted to write music. I went back to Greece to be alone and silent. After a while, however, melodic patterns began forming themselves around the Kalvos poem, and within weeks I had made a rough draft of Eis Thanaton.

It falls into three distinct sections: the long sombre opening monologue of the son, the tender feminine melismatic middle section of the mother addressing her son, then his desolation at being left by her and his final resolution to live in the triumph of true faith until he joins her again. In this highly "Byzantine" last section, the voice of the mother becomes the Mother of God as she sings Allelouia, Doxa soi o Theos. The music ends with a burst of Christ is risen and an echo of string harmonics.

Eis Thananton is an icon of sorrow worked through as part of a whole divine plan, not of death as an isolated cruel imposition.

John Tavener

  • Ensemble
    City of London Sinfonia / Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
    Stephen Richardson, baritone
    Richard Hickox
  • Conductor
    Richard Hickox
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