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John Tavener

Publisher: Chester Music

Hymn of Dawn (2002)
Commissioned by Ulster Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra
Text Writer
Chester Music Ltd
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
1 Hour 10 Minutes
Arabic, English, Greek, Persian, Sanskrit
soprano, baritone, violin, flute
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Programme Note
John Tavener Hymn of Dawn (2002)
Hymn of Dawn attempts to conceive a transcendent unity of all religions, in the form of a mystical love-song. The logos manifests itself in different ways, whether it be Christ, Khrishna, the Buddha, the Koran or, for the American Indians, Virgin Nature, which can be seen as God’s Art. We have reached a point in history where no religion can be fully exclusive any more; all things are a manifestation of the Divine Substance. As the great Sufi mystic, Ibn Arabí has said, “Do not attach yourself to any particular creed exclusively, so that you disbelieve in all the rest. Let your soul be capable of embracing all forms of belief.”

However, I remain an Orthodox Christian, and by the nature of things, it would be impossible for me to be otherwise. In the language of music though, which is the way in which I most clearly perceive divine realities, I can try to embrace all. I should mention that I have been deeply assisted in this by the inspirational presence in my life of Frithjof Schuon, the great Swiss metaphysician and Sufi master. This is an unimaginably precious gift from heaven, and so is my guiding angel, who inspires me while I work. Without these two wonderful gifts, I could never have written Hymn of Dawn. Finally, I should also mention an unexpected visit to my house from an Apache Indian holy man with a huge and primordial pow-wow drum, another unusual circumstance in the composition of this work.

Musical Note

Hymn of Dawn was conceived as a mystical love song. The soprano and baritone soloists are the singing ‘lovers’, and the solo flute and solo violin represent the male and female aspects of ‘Divine Love’. The huge pow-wow drum, with the four players ranged around it with their elk-skin beaters, should be placed in the centre of the orchestra. The awesome and primordial rhythms of five different religious traditions are sounded from here.

The texts are from many different sources and languages, including Christian (in Greek – the Gospels), Islamic (Arabic – the Koran), American Indian (Sioux), Hindu (the Vedas (Sanskrit) and the Upanishads), Jewish (The Song of Solomon), Dante, Ibn Arabí, Shaikh Alawi and Rumi (Persian). I hope that the music, which was written between October 2001 and April 2002, will speak for itself. “Everywhere I look, I see and hear God”. This is the very essence of Hymn of Dawn.


Preview the score:

The Radio 3 broadcast of the world premiere of Tavener's Hymn of Dawn, with Stephen Layton conducting the Ulster Orchestra, revealed it to have strong links with The Veil, both in the exotic orchestration and in the actual musical material. The use of flute and violin as well as soloists adds variety of expression ... I hope this substantial and rewarding work will also appear on disc soon.
Paul Conway, Tempo,01/10/2005
...undoubtedly the most important commission seen in Belfast for some time [and] a personal landmark for the composer. Hymn of Dawn is built as a patchwork of sacred texts (around nine different sources and languages) played out between two vocal and two instrumental soloists, a string orchestra and percussion, with a centrepiece, the pow-wow drum. The drum accommodates four players whose materials are each defined by a different rhythm and cultural origin. Despite some very familiar components - drones, simple melody and Eastern inflexion - Tavener's music has changed somewhat, principally because it has suddenly taken on the issue of difference. The result, not surprisingly for this composer, is an essay in inclusivity and acceptance, but the study of duality, multiplicity and resolution means that this piece also comes close to a traditional dramatic cantata. Belfast is privileged to witness the unveiling of this new work by the Ulster Orchestra.
Belfast Telegraph,08/11/2004
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