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John Tavener

Publisher: Chester Music

Requiem (2007)
Commissioned by The Liverpool Culture Company Limited as part of the 2008 European Capital of Culture Programme for performance by Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, Vasily Petrenko conductor.
Chester Music Ltd
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
35 Minutes
English, Latin
Solo Instrument(s)
Cello, Soprano, Tenor

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Programme Note
John Tavener Requiem (2007)

The essence of this Requiem is contained in the words “Our glory lies where we cease to exist”. That is, when one’s false self is extinguished, the true self shines forth, and we have, in a way, become one with God. But this realisation is beyond almost all human beings, which is why religion exists, and why the perennial truth of all the great religious traditions centres on this concept. The absolute freedom that results from this oneness can only belong to the being that, liberated from the conditions of manifested existence, has become absolutely one with its principal and its origin. The seventh movement of the Requiem is a musical expression of this, and the preceding movements a journey towards it.

Today, the different religious traditions are often in conflict with each other, but inwardly every religion is the doctrine of the self and its earthly manifestations. That is to say there is only ONE BEING: minerals, animals, plants and human beings are all part of that self. This is the meaning of Advaita Vedanta expounded in the Upanishads “Ēkam evādvitīyam” (the ONE without a second) which is sung in movements three and five. The purpose of our existence in this world is precisely to understand the true nature of what we are.

This work, which contains sections from the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass, lines from the Koran and Sufi texts, and Hindu words from the Upanishads and other sources, was written for performance in a vast cruciform space. The cross, an intersection of two dimensions, thus represents the intersection of the temporal with the eternal. The work is in 7 movements, and the musical construction, like the spatial requirement, is geometric and symetrical. The first three movements mirror the last three in that they have the same duration, and material in common. The fourth movement, Kali’s Dance, is at the centre, and it is based on an Indian Mohara (or rhythmic pattern) which “dances” throughout.

The solo cello should sit at the centre of the cathedral. In the far East End are the choir and brass, while in the far West End are the strings, solo treble and solo tenor. In the North and South are the Tibetan temple bowls, gongs and tam-tam, and two sets of timpani with the pow-wow drum. The audience should sit within these forces.

The solo cello symbolises the Primordial Light which, we are told, appears at death and journeys with us towards the state of oneness, or Paradise. The cello travels towards that oneness through the extinction and total annihilation of the false self (or Ego), which is represented symbolically by the central fourth movement, Kali’s Dance/Dies Irae. This ferocious “cosmic dance” juxtaposes an almost Tantric adoration and extinction in the fiercely beautiful Goddess Kali (whom Ramakrishna “saw” manifest as The Supreme Being), with the Judgement of Christ in the Dies Irae. Then, after a serene and then ecstatic Interlude, harking back to the second movement, the seventh and final movement pulsates with settings of Ahām Āsmi, Ehyēh Ashēr Ehyēh, Eghō imī O ON, and Ana al Haqq in Sanskrit, Hebrew, Greek and Arabic respectively: “I am that – I am God”.

Preview the score:

  • Ensemble
    Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus
    Ruth Palmer, violin; Josephine Knight, cello; Elin Manaha Thomas, soprano; Andrew Kennedy, tenor
    Vasily Petrenko
    EMI Classics:
  • Conductor
    David Hill
  • 25 NOV 2014
    Royal Festival Hall, London
    Philharmonic Orchestra, Bach Choir
    Raphael Wallfisch; David Hill, conductor
  • 25 NOV 2014
    Royal Festival Hall
    The Bach Choir; Philharmonia Orchestra
    David Hill, conductor
  • 07 JUN 2014
    4 Vocalists and Cellist
  • 17 MAY 2014
    Vale of Glamorgan Festival 2014
    St David's Hall, Cardiff
    BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales
    Guy Johnston (cello); David Atherton, conductor
  • 10 JUL 2010
    Brentwood Cathdral, Brentwood, UK
    Southend Festival Chorus
  • 07 OCT 2009
    New York, NY
    Church of St. Ignatius Loyola
    Kent Tritle, conductor
  • 07 OCT 2009
    Church of St. Ignatius Loyola; New York, NY
    Sacred Music in a Sacred Space
    Jennifer Zetlan, soprano; Matthew Garrett, tenor; Kent Tritle and Renée Anne Louprette, conductor
  • 06 FEB 2009
    Requiem Country Premiere
    Winnipeg, Canada
    Winnipeg Symphony
    Alexander Mickelthwate, conductor
  • 06 FEB 2009
    Winnipeg, MB, Canada
    Winnipeg Symphony
    Alexander Mickelthwate, conductor
  • 14 NOV 2008
    Requiem London Premiere
    Cadogan Hall, London
    City of London Sinfonia; Joyful Company of Singers
    Elin Manahan Thomas, soprano; Andrew Kennedy, tenor; Josephine Knight, cello; Richard Hickox, conductor

Tavener at his thunderous best, presented here in a panorama of dark magnificence.
Michael Church, The Independent,26/11/2014
This remarkable work...the first movement is beautifully atmospheric, whiel the second seems to express resignation in the face of death with some gorgeous sonorities. the serene finale...the two soloists singing repeated calm 'Alleluias' in parallel tenths to produce a trance-like texture.
Marcus Huxley, Organists' Review,01/02/2011
Much of the writing is ecstatic, lyrical and of unusual beauty.
Matthew Greenall, Classical Music,01/11/2010
The Requiem, from its ghostly opening, stratospherically high on the cello, to its ethereal ending, shows Tavener's gift for conjuring massive, if skeletal, architectural spans of music from modest material, relying on ritualistic development to substantiate wraiths of sound. Slender it may be on paper, but in performance the score creates an immediate ambience. Dramatically polarised between movements of, variously, austere rigour, devotional intensity and shimmering beauty, the fourth movement, "Khali's Dance", is a whirlwind of agitated rhythm, punchy vocal writing, and a toccata-like line for the tireless solo cello. Unamplified throughout, Knight gave a natural, unforced account of the taxing solo-cello part. Elin Manahan Thomas and Andrew Kennedy were splendid exponents of the soprano and tenor solos respectively, capturing the music's vaguely hallucinatory idiom.
Lynne Walker, The Independent,04/03/2008
... new work (commissioned for Liverpool's Capital of Culture programme) whose bold sonic imagination almost realises its colossal spiritual aspirations. The whole is framed by ecstatic cello solos, derived from Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time by way of Tavener's near-classic The Protecting Veil. Along the way, widely spaced groups of percussion, brass and strings make inspirational use of the acoustic spaces of Liverpool's Metropolitan Cathedral.
David Fanning, The Telegraph,03/03/2008
...the Requiem, superbly delivered by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir under Vasily Petrenko's direction, deserves a standing ovation in its own right. Timeless yet urgent, disarmingly simple in places, thunderously apocalyptic elsewhere, it is inexorably focused on the inevitable hour when - to quote Tavener's subtitle, borrowed from a Hindu sage - “our glory lies where we cease to exist”. And though pithy by Tavener's metaphysical standards (a mere 35 minutes) it is vast in concept. A soprano and tenor also soar stratospherically above consolatory strings; while the chorus have ecstatic Messiaen-like refrains supported by pungent brass, or extraordinary canons, dense yet strangely luminous, and often punctuated by ethereal temple bowls. Countless congregations seem to be taking up the same hymn, but on distant shores. It's the ending, however, that contains the quintessence of Tavener. A massive choral polyphony, rising to fortissimo then falling to nothing, it simultaneously presents the same refrain in many languages. And, though the order of the notes is continually varied, the refrain somehow remains eternally the same - as in English bellringing.
Richard Morrison, The Times,03/03/2008
The opening cello solo is lyrically sentimental, and the finale impresses by its decibel count...the playing and choral singing was wonderfully committed, while the soloists - soprano Elin Manahan Thomas and Andrew Kennedy - negotiated Tavener's fiendish vocal writing with ease.
Tim Ashley, The Guardian,01/03/2008
AS WORLD premieres go, Tavener’s Requiem was one of the most anticipated of recent years. A stupendous performance using the entire cathedral space, the work fused the common traditions of four major religions into one vision – the notion that “our glory lies where we cease to exist”. The Dies Irae had to be one of the most hellishly disturbing of any similar movement, while the mantra-like passages of serene beauty almost transcended thought. Soprano soloist Elin Manahan Thomas and her tenor counterpart Andrew Kennedy surpassed themselves in their highly complex and demanding lines, while solo cellist Josephine Knight – acting like a narrator – added an additional almost celestial sound.
Glyn Mon Hughes, Liverpool Daily Post,29/02/2008
From its prevalent and enfolding mysticism, Tavener creates what, in essence, is a massive crescendo and diminuendo, at its centre a traumatic and tumultuous Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) which decrees that in all religions there is ultimately a time of reckoning as flesh and spirit part company.
Joe Riley, Liverpool Echo,29/02/2008
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