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John Tavener

Publisher: Chester Music

Tu ne sais pas (2007)
“Commissioned by Maestro Ignat Solzhenitsyn for The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia” This work and programs pertaining to its world-premiere performances have been supported by: The National Endowment for the Arts Philadelphia Music Project, a program of the Philadelphia Center for Arts and Heritage, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and administered by The University of the Arts and The Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia.
Text Writer
Jean Bies
Chester Music Ltd
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
19 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)

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Programme Note
John Tavener Tu ne sais pas (2007)
a metaphysical paradox

words by Jean Biès and from Islamic and Hindu sources

Two poems by the contemporary French poet, philosopher and perennialist Jean Biès (b. 1933) form the basis of this work. The music is framed by a short Prologue for string quartet taken from within the orchestra, and an identical Epilogue. In between this framework two poems are set – Androcosme and Tu ne sais pas. The first contemplates the various states of Man; when he sleeps, dreams, walks, sings praises, weeps, speaks, laughs, loves, dies and finally “is no longer man”, having merged with the Absolute, he “holds the universe in his hands”.

The second poem, Tu ne sais pas, appears blasphemously to accuse God of having forgotten his creatures. Into this poem I have inserted two traditional texts: the Islamic La illaha illa llah (There is no God but God) and at the end the great Hindu Vedantic sentence Ayam Atma Brahma (The Self is the Absolute). Herein lies the metaphysical paradox: Man can accuse God of anything or deny his existence, but by his very nature he is condemned to the supernatural because of his deiformity, and because his true self, devoid of ego, is nothing other than God.

The music should be performed at the breaking point of intensity, and at the same time with great stillness and serenity. This is the musical manifestation of the Paradox. The ‘play’ of Atma – Maya (the Absolute and the Relative) is represented by dance-like sections for strings and timpani occurring between the verses; they start in a light and playful manner, but become apocalyptic as the music proceeds. The whole musical and metaphysical meaning of the work is summed up in the last sentence which should be sung very slowly and tenderly: “Quand n'est plus l’homme, il tient l’univers en ses mains.”

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