A few months ago while having dinner at a friend's house, I picked up John Tavener's The Music of Silence and read some of the passages my friend had marked. I asked if I could borrow the book when he was done with it, and for the past few days it's been on top of the stack by my bed. (I haven't yet listened to anything by Tavener, but I may have to.)
Here are a few of Tavener's more inflammatory statements:
I have always been drawn more to the archetypal levels of human experience and human types, which is why I think I was drawn to Stravinsky and revolted by Schoenberg. Schoenberg was for me the filthy, rottrn 'dirt dump' of the twentieth century. I personally could not stand the angst-ridden sound of decay in his music, the vile post-Freudian world. Basically, I do not respond to the so-called 'Germanic Tradition,' whose by now rotting corpse -- the hideous sound world of its fabricated complexity -- smothers archetypal experience that I have always sought.
Ultimos Ritos [an early Tavener work] is certainly very dramatic, very exoteric and very 'Roman Catholic' -- that whole culture of the violence of the Crucifixion. If I endeavoed to put into music the idea of the Crucifixion today, I would never set it in this violent manner because I believe ... that the image of the murdered God, with the blood, the sweat and the agony of suffering, has been disastrous for the culture of the Latin West. Such a violent image may explain a great deal of the violence of Western Art.
The peak of humanism in music had occurred some two hundred years before in Handel, with an almost Sophoclean sense of tragedy, dignity, objectivity, transparencey and his astounding simplicity that, as it were, lays bare our pretensions. No wonder Schoenberg dismissed him. From Beethoven (who called Handel 'the greatest composer of all -- I kneel at his tomb') to Wagner (who said "Handel draws blood'), and on to Mahler and Schoenberg and Berg, humanism was going rapidly downhill.
I became Orthodox in 1977. A number of things brought this about. First of all, as I have said, I was deeply disillusioned by the Roman Catholic Church, by its legalism and also ... by the way in which it seemed to be going downhill in its drift towards humanism. Even at its best, the ultramontane variety of Catholicism did not appeal to me because of the scholasticism. I thought, there simply must be more. I'd had instruction from a priest at Westminster Cathedral, but profoundly distrusted the proselytizing attitude. I recall the priest saying, 'I think it's time for you to come in, I think you sould come, the Lord wants you.' The Orthodox are quite the opposite: they try to push you away. So that attracted me towards the Orthodox Church.
... at this stage of my life I felt I did not want to write any more music for a very long time. Indeed [I] questioned what I had been doing all these years. All this music, all this modernist influence -- even Mozart, even Beethoven, even Bach -- they did not have tradition in the sense that the Eastern Church had tradition. ...
Somehow I had to understand the true meaning of tradition for myself. Nothing else would do. All non-traditional music seemed to me contrived, concerned with satisfying the ego. and to have nothing, absolutely nothing to do with the sacred.
... if music can't be sung, then it ceases to be music. It certainly ceases to be sacred music. Sacred music must be able to be in some way sung, because from a Christian point of view the Word must be heard. Music is the extension of the Word, not a frilly decoration of the Word. It is at the service of the Word, as in all great traditions. There must be no harmony, no counterpoint, just a single melodic line with an ison, or the tonic note of the melody, representing eternity, at least according to Petros; and, I might add, according to the entire Greek Orthodox Church.
A critic wrote about them that I was not fulfilling my duty as a composer. I was very pleased indeed to read that. For a composer to labour over a score for years and years is incomprehensible to me. During this period and right up till now, if I have to labour with something for more than an hour I dismiss it as not being worthy of attention -- not for me as the composer and therefore probably not for the listener. The concept, from both a Christian and Platonic point of view, is that all music already exists. When God created the world He created everything. It's up to us as artists to find that music. Of course that's an exhausting experience, but youi have to rid yourself of any preconceived idea about what music is; rid yourself of the idea that you have to struggle over note rows, or with sonata form, or the humanist bugbear, development. Music just is. It exists. If you have ears to hear, you'll hear it!