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John Tavener

Publisher: Chester Music

The Myrrh-Bearer (1993)
commissioned by the London Symphony Chorus
Chester Music Ltd
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
40 Minutes
English, Greek
Solo Instrument(s)

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Programme Note
John Tavener The Myrrh-Bearer (1993)
The remarkable text of the Troparion, written by the great Byzantine poetess-nun Cassiana, was the inspiration of The Myrrh-Bearer. The text informed the architecture of the music. The viola solo represents Mary Magdalen, as the cello solo represented the Mother of God on The Protecting Veil. This is where the resemblance between the two pieces ends.
In The Myrrh-Bearer the Chorus symbolises ‘us’, the ‘sins of the world’, from ‘stylized dictatorships’ to ‘the frivolous inane escapist vanities of the world,’ the to cries of ‘help’ after the cosmic catastrophe, and finally reaching an apocalyptic climax in the words, ‘We have no king by Caesar;’ a downright condemnation of God in favour of Earthly power.
In a surreal way the Magdalen’s ‘sin’ shines through in the viola music, because she recognises the Godhead, and the endless ‘Kyrie eleison’ chanted by the semi-chorus represents her repentance and whatever is left of a ‘repentant’ world.
The Myrrh-Bearer explores the whole range of the viola, climbing from the depths up to the highest notes, and then falling again at the end, after the Magdalen’s recognition of the Risen Christ – ‘Rabboni.’
The last stroke of the gong in the viola’s final bottom C, gives a deliberately ominous end to the piece.

Catherine Telfer

  • Ensemble
    Liepaja Symphony Orchestra / Kamer... Choir
    Maris Sirmais
  • 16 JUL 2008
    Ossiach, Austria
    Arnold Schoenberg Chor
    Garth Knox
  • 21 OCT 2007
    Vilnius, Lithuania
    Lithuanian Composer's Union
  • 05 JUN 2007
    Kaunas, Lithuania
    Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra
  • 10 NOV 2006
    Riga, Latvia
    Rigas Jauniesu Koris Kamer
    Eglis Stals, conductor
  • 16 OCT 2005
    Rosedale United Church, Toronto, Canada
    Wayne Strongman, conductor
  • 13 OCT 2004
    The Myrrh-Bearer Country Premiere
    The World is Burning Country Premiere
    St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne
    Melbourne Chorale Ensemble
    Brett Dean viola

    Other Dates:
    20 October - St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne
  • 11 MAR 2004
    St Paul's Cathedral, London
    Choir of St Paul's Cathedral
    Rivka Golani, viola / Chris Brannick, percussion; John Scott, conductor

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