Sir John on religion and health – BBC interview
Sir John Tavener defied doctors’ expectations when he resumed composing after a heart attack. Regarded as one of Britain’s greatest living composers, he talks about how the possibility of “sudden death at any time” has changed his music, his outlook and his faith.
When Sir John Tavener suffered a heart attack in Switzerland in December 2007, he had emergency bypass surgery and spent four months in intensive care.
“They didn’t know whether my brain had been damaged,” he says.
“My wife had flown over, and she played me Mozart. And I apparently, in my unconscious state, began conducting. So that brought me round again.”
The power of music came to Sir John’s aid in his hospital bed. That music should connect with something deep within him is perhaps not so far-fetched given his lifelong devotion to harnessing the power of music himself.
The composer has achieved a popularity that is rare in the classical world with choral works that are marked out by their pared-down beauty and intense spirituality.
Music has always been sacred to Sir John, who converted to the Orthodox church in 1977 and has said that “my way towards God has been to write music”.
In 1992, The Protecting Veil, for solo cello and strings, topped the classical charts for several months. In 1997, Sir John’s Song For Athene was played as the coffin of Princess Diana was carried out of Westminster Abbey during her funeral.
I think all religions have reached a stage of maturity, therefore decay, and, up to a point, senility”
Sir John Tavener And his A New Beginning was chosen to see in the new century at the end of 1999 in the Millennium Dome in London.
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