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Tavener, Sir John Kenneth, 1944-, English composer, b. London; studied Royal Academy of Music; widely considered Great Britain's most popular living classical composer. Since his early efforts in the 1960s his work has shown a consistent but evolving tonal or modal style and often a marked simplicity and spirituality. Tavener, who joined the Russian Orthodox Church in 1977, is known principally for his requiems, canticles, hymns, and liturgical cantatas, which he has called "icons with notes rather than colors." Largely slow-moving, intense, and accessible to a wide audience, his music has been influenced by various traditional styles including Indian ragas, Byzantine chants, Middle Eastern works, and Native American music. Tavener's compositions also have close ties to Eastern European minimalism and are part of a mystical strain that also marks the work of such composers as Arvo Pärt, Henryk Górecki, and Giya Kancheli.

Tavener first came to wide public attention with his composition The Whale (1968), which employs a collage of prerecorded tape, amplified percussion, and chorus. After a comparatively dry period in the 1970s, Tavener's work flourished during the 1980s and 90s, when he produced a broad range of compositions. Among his best-known works are Orthodox Vigil Service (1984), for chorus and handbells; The Protecting Veil, for cello, and Akathist of Thanksgiving, for soloists, chorus, strings, and timpini, (both: 1987); the operatic Mary of Egypt (1991); the choral Song for Athene (1993), played at the funeral of Princess Diana; and Total Eclipse (1999), a cantata scored for vocal soloists, boys' choir, baroque instruments, brass, Tibetan bowls, and timpani. The Veil of the Temple (2003) is a seven-hour musical vigil that draws on Christian traditions of the East and West and is performed by a large chorus, vocal soloists, organ, brass and percussion ensembles, Tibetan horn, temple bowls, and Indian harmonium. Tavener was knighted in 2000.

See his The Music of Silence—A Composer's Testament (2000); Glimpses of Paradise (documentary film dir. by G. Haydon, 1992); G. Haydon, John Tavener—Glimpses of Paradise (1995).

The Whale is a "dramatic cantata" written by the English composer John Tavener in 1966. The work is loosely based on the biblical allegory of Jonah and the Whale, although Tavener admitted that "The 'fantasy' grew and perhaps at times nearly 'swallowed' the biblical text: so the swallowing of Jonah became almost 'literal' in the biblical sense.

The Whale comprises three main sections: Opening (Biblical Narrative), Melodrama and Pantomime (Storm) and Prayer (In the belly of the Whale). It was premiered at a Proms concert on 1 August, 1969, with the London Sinfonietta under David Atherton with soloists Anna Reynolds, Raimund Herincx, Alvar Liddell and the composer playing pipe and hammond organs. In July 1970, The Whale was recorded in Islington, London with the same musicians. It was released as an album by The Beatles' Apple Records label later that year.

The album was re-released in the mid-1970s on Ringo Starr's label, Ring'O Records, with a different cover.


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