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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 October, 2003, 15:52 GMT
Tavener seeks 'music of God'
John Taverner
Taverner is a celebrated composer
Composer John Tavener has told the BBC how "auditory visions" - out-of-body experiences - have helped inspire his music.

Tavener is one of Britain's most respected composers of religious or "sacred" music.

He is also well-known for the depth of religious feeling both within his work and his personal life.

"I do have visions - it is certainly unfashionable to have visions these days, and most people regard them with great cynicism," Tavener told BBC World Service's Heart And Soul programme.

"I don't attach that much importance to the visions, but I do believe that there is a music that exists that it is possible for us as human beings to find that already exists in the cosmos.

"This is the uncreated music of God, as I believe it exists.

"All of us, as creators, go as far as we can."


Tavener, who was the favourite composer of Princess Diana, bases his work on large religious themes, and described music as "the essence of God."

"There is a sound of music that exists that we as artists - or as artists concerned with the sacred - have to find that music," he said.

God depicted on Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel painting
I remember God all the time because I write music
John Tavener
Tavener also stated that for him, writing music was a form of prayer.

"I'm very privileged because one talks about the remembrance of God. [Through] the very fact that I write sacred music, my concern with music and God take place all the time.

"Therefore I remember God all the time because I write music."

He added that he even saw music as a gateway to God.

"When I'm not writing music - which is hardly ever - but if there goes a period when I'm not writing then I feel totally cut off," he stressed.

"For me to write music is prayer, it's a way of communing with God."

Critics of Tavener suggest that his music is in fact a substitute for religion, with one suggesting that they saw in his minimalism "simple music for simple desires."

But Tavener said this criticism was due to a cynicism that was ingrained as part of the modern world.

"In this over-sophisticated society I often long for the company of naively illusioned, believing people, because these people are precious," he argued.


"There's this terrible wave of cynicism. We do live, after all, at the end of the Hindu cycle, the Khali Yuga, therefore one can't expect much from people - and one doesn't get very much from people.

"One can't expect very much, in a way, from the state of religions - the Churches, fundamentalist Islam - we're not in a golden age.

"We're literally living in a dark age, so anything that comes from anywhere that has a spark of the divine is worth taking."

For Tavener, who has suffered various health problems in life - he suffered a stroke early on, and is prone to "temporal lobe attacks," serious illness is God's way of asserting his existence.

"We're so dense as human beings. God uses absolutely everything... in a way, illness is only an illusion, pain is only an illusion," he said.

"When I'm in pain I wouldn't say that to you - but I think that God uses these things. He uses illness to make you more aware."

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08 Sep 03  |  Science/Nature


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