Repertoire Search

John Tavener

Publisher: Chester Music

Schuon Lieder (2003)
Commissioned by the Schubert Ensemble, Cheltenham Festival and Ravinia Festival
Text Writer
Frithjof Schuon
Chester Music Ltd
Solo Voice(s) and up to 6 players
Year Composed
1 Hour 0 Minutes
Buy this work
Worldwide Sales   North American Sales

Programme Note
John Tavener Schuon Lieder (2003)

Schuon Lieder are settings of nineteen poems taken from more than three thousand written by Frithjof Schuon, most of them dating from the last four years of his life. Many are mystical love songs of an almost palpable femininity, and they represent a distillation of Schuon’s magisterial and perennialist doctrine.

My songs are scored for soprano voice, string quartet, piano and 4 Tibetan temple bowls. Each one is based on a series of 25 notes: these are, in themselves, musical mirrors of Divine Love. Like the poems, the songs are essences of a Sufi and child-like character. Most are ecstatic and spontaneous reactions to the German poetry, and each is separated from the preceding song by one or more austere canons for string quartet, based on material from preceding songs. The rigorous rhythmic permutations of the Tibetan temple bowls lend a hieratic and ritualistic aspect to the often sacred nature of the lieder.

For me, Song XII forms the centrepiece, and sums up the inner meaning of the whole work, for it sets a poem written by the young Sufi Sheikh after an unhappy love affair which drew him ever closer to God. As Schuon writes: 'It is not so much the earthly or the human as the quest of the soul for eternal Beauty – that play of longing and hope and fidelity and liberation. For this is the doctrine, indeed the vision of God, that ultimately results from all profound love.' The work ends with an instrumental Postlude referring back to the first song.

Schuon Lieder is dedicated to Catherine Schuon, in gratitude for her friendship; and also as widow of Frithjof Schuon, in whose mystical presence I live.

John Tavener

Note on Frithjof Schuon

Frithjof Schuon has been described as one of the greatest metaphysicians that have ever lived. He was a Sufi, and along with René Guénon, he expounded the Religio Perennis, a doctrine that teaches that beneath the outward forms of all religions, there is the same essential Truth. He wrote many metaphysical books, which won the praise of such diverse figures as T.S. Eliot and William Stodhart, who called him 'the very cosmic Intellect itself'.

Schuon was also a gifted painter and poet. Although his prose writings were of a formidable intellectual stature, he believed that a child-like nature was essential for any path to God, and this child-like nature finds expression in his poetry, written in German at the end of his long life.

His disciples, who were from diverse faiths and came to him from all over the world, knew him as Sheikh Isa. He was born in Basle, Switzerland, later moving to the U.S.A., where he was adopted by both the Crow and Sioux Indian tribes.


Score sample

  • Ensemble
    Schubert Ensemble
    Patricia Rozario
    Black Box:
Tavener's ambitious cycle consists of mystical love songs and songs that mirror Schuon's ecstatic paeans to the Divine. The composer's trademark post-minimalism - chantlike vocal lines soaring around a narrow group of pitches over the gentle surges and urgings of strings, piano and a steady undercurrent of clanging temple bowls - is laced with a ritualistic Asian atmosphere. More dissonant canonic interludes, often played pizzicato by the quartet, link the songs to form a continuous, ecstatic flow of sound that aspires to a Messiaen-like state of transcendental beauty and grace. Fleeting hints of Schubert and Richard Strauss tie Tavener's settings to the German lieder tradition. This is a major addition to the Tavener canon. I found myself totally caught up in the experience, so much so that the 60 minutes fairly flew. Much of that was because of Rozario's magnificent singing. The Bombay-born British soprano had sung the world premiere only 13 days earlier at England's Cheltenham Festival. Long an exponent of Tavener's vocal works, Rozario, in her Ravinia debut, brought a wide range, radiant timbre, phenomenal dexterity and pitch, superb German diction and total expressive conviction to the cycle. (Her attire, a pink silk sari, enhanced the Eastern effect.) The Corigliano quartet, Goldstein and Milioto inhabited Tavener's sound-world almost as completely.
John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune,31/07/2004
At 10:15pm on Friday in the Pittville Pump Room, we heard the premiere of John Tavener's [Cheltenham] Festival commission, Schuon Lieder, a major work of beguiling beauty, resonance and variety. It's his most successful piece in years. Tavener's melodic contours echo art-song traditions. The 13th of the hour-long set suggests Schubert with funny intervals, at other points Strauss pops up. This renewed contact with European roots only brings good to Tavener's inspiration; for one thing, the songs, separated by bustling instrumental canons, force him to be concise. His ear for sonorities also appears rejuvinated. A rainbow of textures rise from small forces, right from the opening's widely arching piano notes laid over a string haze … an hour in John Tavener's company seems no time at all.
Geoff Brown, The Times,19/07/2004
Close X

Newsletter Signup

Enter your email address to keep up to date with the latest news and special offers from Music Sales Classical.
Your data is secure and you can unsubscribe at any time. Read our Privacy Policy

Click here to receive regular news
© Copyright 2019 Music Sales Classical. Part of the Music Sales Group.