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The great composer Sir John Tavener has died two months short of his 70th birthday.
Tavener, who was one of today’s best loved composers, studied at the Royal Academy of Music and rose to fame with the premiere of his iconoclastic oratorio The Whale in 1968, which was released on the Beatles' own Apple label.
Tavener’s faith was central to his music, although that faith underwent many changes. At one time or another during his life, he turned to Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Universalism. But it is the Orthodox tradition which inspired much of his work, including the Song for Athene, which was famously sung at the funeral of Princess Diana as the coffin was carried out of Westminster Abbey.
His music has always been enormously popular, something which pleased and even surprised the composer himself. Speaking in an interview with BBC Music Magazine recently he said: ‘I seem to have a God-given talent for connecting with people, and I’m grateful for it. But I’ve never written cynically with that intention.’
He went on to say of his work: ‘There’s been a lot, some of it dull, but nothing I’m ashamed of and nothing I’d really change.’
Tavener's health suffered because he had the cardio-vascular condition Marfan Syndrome. In 2008 he suffered a serious heart attack that dramatically affected both his health – he was too ill to attend the premiere of his Requiem – and his faith. His wife, Maryanna, nursed him back to health.
In a statement, the director of Chester Music, which publishes Tavener’s music, said: ‘John Tavener was one of the unique and most inspired voices in music of the last fifty years. His large body of work – dramatic, immediate, haunting, remaining long in the memory of all who have heard it, and also identifiably his – is one of the most significant contributions to classical music in our times. For all those fortunate enough to have known him, John was a man of strong beliefs, huge personal warmth, loyalty and humour. He will be much missed.’
Sir John is survived by his wife, Maryanna, and three children.
Sir John Tavener (1944-2013)