The Late John Tavener's Eight-Hour, Crowning Achievement

Q2 Music Album of the Week for February 17, 2014

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sir John Tavener said that The Veil of the Temple is “the supreme achievement of my life and the most important work that I have ever composed.” A bold statement by any composer, but one you should be allowed to make if you’ve written a sprawling and spiraling work that, when performed in its entirety, is roughly eight hours long.

This recording of The Veil of the Temple (a condensed concert version that is still a substantial work at two-and-a-half hours) with The Choir of the Temple Church, The Holst Singers, and the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Stephen Layton with soprano Patricia Rozario, is actually the 2005 recording which has been re-released in honor of what would have been Tavener’s 70th-birthday year – he passed away in November 2013.

The piece is broken down into eight “cycles,” each building on the previous in terms of both musical material and length. For this recorded version, the first cycle lasts approximately eight minutes while the eighth cycle lasts over 35 minutes. There’s no doubt that this is a spiritual work – contemplations about the existence of God have always been something important to Tavener – but he really wanted to go beyond biblical scripture in this piece to embrace as many world religions as possible, as well as various poets and authors.

In fact, the first thing you hear is the soprano singing the words of the Sufi mystic Rumi, and over the course of the piece you’ll find texts from the Koran, St. Augustine and Dostoyevsky. You’ll hear Sufi and Hindu rhythms in addition to multiple kinds of chant. And you’ll definitely get a sense of the kind of relentless, cyclic, all-night ritual that is meant to be heard through the night until dawn.

Tavener went on to say that, “by the act of writing The Veil I understood that no single religion could be exclusive.” He could have added that no single belief, or language or musical style is exclusive either. Listening to all the tracks in one sitting makes a powerful musical statement and encourages you to take the meditative and contemplative journey with him.

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Comments [2]

Floria from nyc

Amazing...This takes a special mountaintop to find and listen to the complete 8 hours in quiet contemplation. I'd love to do that! Strange, in his death I discovered him. I sort of always overlooked him heading for John Tavener the 1st and his dark Tudor music......(love his music)

Feb. 19 2014 01:35 PM
Scott Hughes from Toronto, Ontario

Absolutely stellar !!!!

Feb. 17 2014 03:21 PM

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Q2 Music's Album of the Week is our weekly review of the newest and most dynamic contemporary classical releases. It focuses on musical discovery, world premiere recordings and fresh perspectives on today's classical landscape. Read our review and stream the album on-demand for one week only at


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