Our thoughts are with the family of Sir John Tavener, who died yesterday at his home with his family.
He was Britain’s foremost classical composer, renowned for his both profoundly religious and inspirational secular works.
Both John Lennon and Ringo Starr took an interest in John Tavener’s music. His first major composition, the iconoclastic and ground-breaking The Whale, was premiered at the Proms in 1969 and was recorded by Apple Records the following year, followed by the release of the extraordinary Celtic Requiem, a piece for orchestra and children’s choir, in 1971.
Andy Davis wrote:
"John Tavener’s The Whale and Celtic Requiem are two of the most extraordinary records ever issued, certainly on Apple Records, and most likely on any mainstream label. A bold claim, perhaps. But listen first and then decide."
John Tavener was very happy that Apple Records was supportive of his early works. "It was marvellously refreshing because serious music at that time was very humourless and narrow, and if recorded at all, therefore tended to be on very obscure labels. To have Apple take on The Whale and Celtic Requiem was wonderful."
John had two sponsors at Apple, John Lennon and Ringo Starr. He recalls meeting John Lennon and Yoko Ono at a dinner party one night, where they swapped tapes and exchanged ideas. And Ringo? "I met Ringo at my brother’s house," Sir John says. At that time, Roger Tavener ran the family’s up-market building firm and was renovating Ringo’s home in Highgate. Sir John adds: "My brother had prepared caviar, but Ringo just wanted a jam sandwich. We finally agreed to record The Whale at that meeting."
"Ringo came to all the rehearsals and the recordings of The Whale and Celtic Requiem," adds Sir John. Indeed, Ringo is one of those shouting through a loud hailer in ‘Melodrama & Pantomime’ on The Whale.
"John and Ringo were very important to me," Sir John admits. "They were lovely people. I don’t think I could actually call them friends but they were wonderful people to meet."
In 2000, John Tavener was knighted by the Queen for his services to music. For him, music is not merely artistic expression. Instead, his belief in God and his desire to articulate his relationship with the divine is paramount. "God shows himself in everything that lives," he has said, "and this includes the sublime language of music."
"My life has taught me that music has a primordial origin," Sir John concludes today. "I can’t really explain it. I wanted to produce music that was the sound of God. That’s what I have always tried to do."