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John Tavener

Publisher: Chester Music

Miroir des Poèmes (2006)
Chester Music Ltd
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
30 Minutes
Programme Note
John Tavener Miroir des Poèmes (2006)
In the Middle Ages, the title ‘Miroir’ designated works that reflected the traditional sciences – the science of love, the philosophical, the mystical, all indeed that is archetypal in our lives. Jean Biès is predominantly a poet, but also a perennial philosopher in the next generation on from Guènon and Schuon. I was drawn to the wonderfully rich tapestry that Biès’s poetry embraces, from the mystical to the erotic, to the child-like and the playful, and to the immense profundity of his thinking. I have set twenty-two of his poems for double choir, two string quartets and double bass.

A playful Petite ouverture ‘draws back the curtains’ on each sequence of the music as it moves in and out of different emotional worlds. India has always been seen by Biès as symbolic of a sacredness that has deserted the West, so this Petite ouverture is based on Indian Ragas, and should be sung in Indian style.

The cycle itself begins and ends with Promenade, ‘a walk’ in spring with all that ‘spring’ and ‘walking’ symbolise. After the first Promenade, we proceed into the world of erotic love, and then by way of an instrumental Interlude into a section with haiku-like miniatures. Then, following Interlude II, we reach the metaphysical and mystical centre of the piece with Androcosme, Mise en croix, and a setting of the extraordinary poem Tu ne sais pas. A third Interlude takes us back through further miniatures and Interlude IV into the erotic landscape of the beginning. Thus Miroir des poèmes is a structure, and also an inner mirror of the human condition, but seen always as a sacred mirror. For Biès, as for myself, all is sacred.
Ideally the music should be performed in a church or other building with a generous acoustic.


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In these recent works he seemed to rediscover his own gift, and his own heritage.[...]The long setting of French poems by Jean Biès entitled Miroir des Poèmes... was full of succulent and naughty echoes of Poulenc and Messiaen. Tavener recently declared that all the great religions were senile. These new works suggested he’d left them all behind, and regained his youth.
Ivan Hewett , The Telegraph,1/27/2014
There is certainly considerable variety as well as vitality in both the choral writing and the instrumental writing for strings that accompanies it, both of them rising to strikingly vivid and even tumultuous gestures.
George Hall, The Guardian ,1/27/2014
The new piece is a radical departure from what we’re used to. [...] The work is very difficult to sing and exquisite to hear. It reflects the astonishing beauty of Biès’s often shattering poems with an ear that matches the poet’s own. The music often involves canons in close harmony and takes the form of an archlike palindrome. Ranging in style from Renaissance to modern, it’s spaced with restful “Interludes” consisting of 13 long chords that are as spare and richly chromatic as anything by Alban Berg. The refinement of this work’s tonal palette and its ecstatic simplicity belie the difficulties of singing it.
Lloyd Dykk, The Vancouver Sun,10/15/2009
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