cover image The Music of Silence: A Composer's Testament

The Music of Silence: A Composer's Testament

John Tavener. Faber & Faber, $15 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-571-20088-7

The popular British composer Tavener, whose ""Song for Athene"" was played at Princess Diana's funeral, attempts to set forth the principles that inform his work. First, Tavener chronicles his musical development and his lifelong search for spiritual meaning, a preoccupation that led him to enter the Russian Orthodox Church in 1977. (Later, he accepted the abbess of an Orthodox monastery in Yorkshire, Mother Thekla, as a spiritual mentor.) Tavener's desire to articulate music according to an eternal, sacred tradition eventually led him to abandon Western procedures in favor of the Eastern Orthodox tonal system and structure, which he uses to ""make ikons in sound."" The second part of the book consists of a series of conversations with his longtime friend Keeble, who poses questions that lead to discussions of, among other things, Tavener's working methods, his dislikes (modernism, minimalism, opera houses and concert halls, for example) and the metaphysical aspects of his music, such as the significance for him of the ison (the drone that is the acoustic representation of the silence of God in Eastern music). Six commentaries on some of his major works comprise the final section. Although Tavener claims not to care about his audience, he has written a book that will help listeners comprehend the spiritual essence of his compositions. A short postlude by Keeble sums up the composer's philosophy and aptly emphasizes that Tavener's testament should ""remind us of how deeply mysterious a thing music is."" B&w photos, discography. (Apr.)