Sad news: A celebrated British composer has died

Sir John Tavener, whose early work was taken up by the Beatles’ label and who went on to write music of profound spirituality and great length, died today at the age of 69.


john taverner2

It is with deep sadness that Chester Music announces the death of Sir John Tavener.  Sir John passed away peacefully at home in Child Okeford, Dorset on November 12, aged 69.


John Tavener studied at the Royal Academy of Music, establishing his reputationin 1968 when his oratorio The Whale was premiered at the inaugural concert of the London Sinfonietta and recorded on the Apple label.  In 1977 he joined the Russian Orthodox Church, and there followed a series of works which have attracted wide popular attention (for example, The Protecting Veil, The Lamb, Song for Atheneand Eternity’s Sunrise) and which, inspired by the liturgical and philosophical traditions of the Eastern churches, demonstrate the characteristic style for which he has become best known.  Subsequently, Tavener’s inspiration derived from a wider range of philosophical sources – most notably expressed in the monumentalVeil of the Temple (2003) – but also from icons of western culture, such as Tolstoy, Mozart and most recently Beethoven. He was knighted for Services to Music in the Millennium Honours list of 2000.


Sir John is survived by his wife, Maryanna, and three children.


James Rushton, Managing Director of Chester Music, comments:

‘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 always identifiably his – is one of the most significant contributions to classical music in our times.  For all of 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.’

UPDATE: News of his final premiere.

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  • One of the only contemporary composers whose music spoke to us in a beautiful and unchallenging way. A true inheritor of the mantle of 17th, 18th and 19th Century tradition of masters of exquisite melody and harmony. We shall miss him and treasure his works even more.

  • I believe I heard that Sir John had an out of body/near death experience which also informed his music. I hope to hear more of this if it’s true and look forward to hearing his works. We will miss him and I regret I did not have a chance to know him personally.

  • Very sad news indeed. A more kindly man one would rarely meet. It was a considerable honour to work with and know him on a couple of projects many years ago and his lovely manner and approach was completely engaging.

  • Little Lamb, who made thee

    Dost thou know who made thee?

    Gave thee life and bid thee feed

    By the stream and o’er the mead

    Gave thee clothing of delight

    Softest clothing woolly bright

    Gave thee such a tender voice

    Making all the vales rejoice, rejoice

    Little lamb who made thee

    Dost thou know who made thee?

    Rest in piece, dear friend.

      • Apologies for my grammatical error. I had intended to put:

        Dear friend, teacher and mentor. Rest in Peace.

        I have no idea where my mind is at the minute. Such an incredible loss. I had the wonderful privilege of hearing the The Lamb the day after he composed it. He sat at piano and played it singing the words in a gentle, strained whisper. When he finished he turned to me and asked me what I thought. I was utterly speechless.

  • Rest in peace, Sir John. I have not heard much of his work, but love what I have. A sad loss to the music world and of course his family. May they find strength in the love so many have shown in their comments. From an admirer from Melbourne, Australia.

  • I just discovered his music about two years ago and instantly took to it, picking up every CD I could reasonably afford. I wish I had been known of his work 10-20 years ago, when I was confusing him with John Taverner. His music would have tapped into something deep within me then, as it does now. RIP.

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