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John Tavener

Publisher: Chester Music

The Protecting Veil (1988)
commissioned by the BBC for the 1989 Promenade season
Publisher
Chester Music Ltd
Category
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
1988
Duration
43 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
cello
Orchestration
Availability


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Programme Note
John Tavener The Protecting Veil (1988)
The Feast of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God was instituted in the Orthodox Church to commemorate her appearance in the Church at Vlacherni (Constantinople) in the early tenth century, possibly 902.

At this time of grave danger for the Greeks from Saracen invasion, Andrew, The holy fool, together with his disciple Epiphanios, during an All-Night-Vigil, saw the Mother of God; she was standing high up above them in the air, surrounded by a host of saints. She was praying earnestly and spreading out her Veil (stole) as a protective shelter over the Christians. Heartened by this vision, the Greeks withstood the Saracen assault and drove away the Saracen army.

The Feast of the Protecting Veil is kept by the Orthodox Church in celebration of this event.

In my piece entitled The Protecting Veil for cello and strings, I have tried to capture some of the almost cosmic power of the Mother of God. The cello represents The Mother of God and never stops singing throughout. One can think of the strings as a gigantic extension of her unending song.

The music falls into eight continuous sections and use is made of the eight Byzantine tones. Various Feasts were in my mind as I composed; for instance the second is related to her birth, the third section to the Annunciation, the fourth to the Incarnation, the fifth (which is totally unaccompanied) to her lament at the foot of the cross, the sixth to the Resurrection, the seventh to her Dormition, and the first and last sections to her cosmic beauty and power over a shattered world. The PROTECTING VEIL ends with a musical evocation of the tears of the Mother of God.

Having said all this, it is perfectly possible to listen to The Protecting Veil as ‘pure’ music but I think that it may be helpful if I recount what was in my mind during the composition. It is an attempt to make a lyrical ikon in sound, rather than in wood, and using the music of the cellist to paint rather than a brush. The music is highly stylised, geometrically formed and meditative in character.


Preview the score:

  • Soloist(s)
    various
  • Ensemble
    English Sinfonia
    Soloist(s)
    Josephine Knight, cello
    Conductor
    Bramwell Tovey
    Carlton Classics:
  • Ensemble
    Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
    Soloist(s)
    Yo-Yo Ma, cello
    Conductor
    David Zinman
    Sony:
  • Ensemble
    London Symphony Orchestra
    Soloist(s)
    Steven Isserlis, cello
    Conductor
    Gennadi Roshdenstvensky
  • Ensemble
    Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
    Soloist(s)
    Raphael Wallfisch, cello
    Conductor
    Justin Brown
    Tring:
  • Ensemble
    Choir of Temple Church / Holst Singers / English Chamber Orchestra
    Soloist(s)
    Natalie Clein, cello (extracts only of The Protecting Veil and The Veil of the Temple)
    Conductor
    Stephen Layton
    Decca:
  • Ensemble
    Ulster Orchestra
    Soloist(s)
    Maria Kliegel, cello
    Conductor
    Takuo Yuasa
    Naxos:
  • Ensemble
    London Symphony Orchestra
    Conductor
    Gennadi Roshdenstvensky
    Virgin Classics:
  • Ensemble
    Various including Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Taverner Choir, Westminster Abbey Choir, English Chamber Orchestra, BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Orchestra
    Soloist(s)
    Various including Yo-Yo Ma, cello / Claron McFadden, soprano / James Bowman, counter-tenor / Timothy Wilson, counter-tenor / Martin Baker, organ
    Conductor
    Various including David Zinman / Andrew Parrott / Martin Neary
  • Ensemble
    I Fiamminghi
    Soloist(s)
    France Springuel ('cello)
    Conductor
    Rudolf Werthen
    Telarc:
  • Ensemble
    London Symphony Orchestra
    Soloist(s)
    Steven Isserlis
    Conductor
    Gennadi Roshdenstvensky
    EMI Classics:
  • Ensemble
    Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
    Soloist(s)
    Amy Dickinson, sax
    Conductor
    Mikel Toms
  • Conductor
    Sir Simon Rattle
    Emi Classics:
Performances
Date
Title
Reviews
The programme opened in St Peter's Church of Ireland, Drogheda, with the famous The Protecting Veil , "an attempt to make a lyrical ikon in sound, rather than in wood", says Tavener. The solo cello, played with deep commitment by Marta Sudraba, represents the Mother of God in an unceasing melody, while the accompanying string orchestra - here, the Ulster Orchestra under Tõnu Kaljuste - alternates between warm, sustained chords and occasional clustery flashes of light with an almost Petroushka -like jollyness.
Michael Dungan, The Irish Times,10/29/2008
...Tavener converted to the Orthodox Church, and his music acquired a further dimension of mystic spirituality [...] Yet, 12 years later, The Protecting Veil, a 45-minute musical icon to the Virgin Mary, was an enormous hit, both with the public and the critics.
Brian Hunt, The Telegraph,8/1/2001
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