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Illustration for article titled R.I.P. John Tavener, composer of sacred minimalism

The BBC is reporting that English composer Sir John Tavener died at his home in Child Okeford, Dorset early on Tuesday. Often referred to as a “sacred minimalist” (a label that has also been applied to his contemporary, and fellow Orthodox Christian, Arvo Pärt), Tavener was the English-speaking world’s preeminent composer of religious music, blending modern composition with centuries-old traditions. He was 69.

Tavener achieved widespread recognition early in his career. The first album of his music, a recording of his cantata The Whale, was released by the Beatles’ Apple Records when Tavener was only 25. In 1977, he converted to Russian Orthodox Christianity, which would provide musical and thematic inspiration for much of his work. His best-known compositions—like “Song Of Athene”, “Funeral Canticle”, and “The Protecting Veil”—are distinguished by their delicate, haunting beauty and subtle, but complex, arrangements.

Though Tavener’s work was popular with filmmakers, popping up in films by Terrence Malick, Carlos Reygadas, and Marco Bellocchio, he wrote only one feature film score, for Alfonso Cuarón’s Children Of Men. Cuarón had listened to Tavener’s music for inspiration while writing and developing the film.

Tavener was born with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that manifests itself in heart problems and unusually long limbs and fingers. He suffered lifelong health problems—including a stroke in his thirties, as well as a succession of heart attacks later in life—but remained productive up until his death. Four new works of his premiered earlier this year: “Tolstoy’s Creed,” “Three Hymns Of George Herbert,” “Love Duet From The Play of Krishna,” and “The Death Of Ivan Ilyich.”


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