Contemporay classical composers, and that means modern era, are often dense, difficult and a challenge. Sir John Tavener who died yesterday was a God-fearing, or more a man inspired by God to create music of profound beauty. A literal vessel for divine inspiration or “divine dictation” as he playfully put it. The Whale was a piece he had written in 1966 and premiered in 1968, released on Apple records in 1970. Those crazy freaks at Apple had a vision, despite criticism for their naiveté in business and their idealistic views. The piece is a cantata, a narrative with vocal and instrumentation, split into tw0 parts and loosely based on the biblical story of Jonah and The Whale. This is not casual listening, this is sit down, close your eyes and hold on. It’s all things – beautiful, abrupt, discordant, enigmatic, surreal. If you ever liked Magma or Zappa then this could be your bridge into contemporary classical music and its difficulties for us mere mortals as we long for a deeper understanding. If you have an issue with music made by someone who believes so strongly in God then this “religious music” may not be for you, but whatever you or he believe in, this is amazing music.
The Whale – Dramatic Cantata – 1966
Anna Reynolds: mezzosoprano
Raimund Herincx: baritone
Alvar Liddell: speaking voice
John Tavener: pipe and hammond organs
David Atherton: conduction
If it is all a bit much perhaps have a go at The Protecting Veil (1988) which is a much more accessible piece and is allegedly one of the biggest selling classical CD’s of all time.
A fascinating interview from the BBC in August 2013: