‘Dumped modernism’? The interplay of musical construction and spiritual affect in John Tavener and his To A Child Dancing In The Wind

Inglis, Brian ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0662-4693 (2020) ‘Dumped modernism’? The interplay of musical construction and spiritual affect in John Tavener and his To A Child Dancing In The Wind. In: Heart's ease: spirituality in the music of John Tavener. Boyce-Tillman, June and Forbes, Anne-Marie, eds. Music and Spirituality, 11 . Peter Lang, Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Mein, New York, Wien. pbk-ISBN 9781788747486, e-ISBN 9781788747509, e-ISBN 9781788747493. [Book Section]

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Since the 1990s, discourses around Tavener’s music – not least those promulgated by Sir John himself – have centred on its perceived spiritual qualities. These are linked explicitly with his conversion to Russian Orthodoxy in 1977, and relate the music wholeheartedly to traditional contexts, in contrast with the post-enlightenment Western view of musical expression (with which Tavener’s earlier compositions implicitly concur). As Geoffrey Haydon wrote in 1995, ‘Once he dumped modernism, his music came to inhabit a world made up largely of traditional models’.

This view has become almost axiomatic. But did Tavener really ‘dump’ modernism? And was his pre-conversion music exclusively concerned with self-expressive innovation? This chapter explores how techniques associated with musical modernism form structural foundations in pieces which exhibit the contemplative idiom (sometimes labelled spiritual minimalism) for which the composer is renowned. With passing reference to Fall and Resurrection (1997) and The Lamb (1982), it centres on a close analytical reading of the Yeats chamber song-cycle To A Child Dancing In The Wind (1983).

In some ways a transitional work, this piece facilitates a holistic understanding of Tavener’s achievement. While its potential for impacting spiritually on listeners is clearly present, it is shown to exemplify particularly well the composer’s distinctive postmodern intellectual craftsmanship. Spiritual affect is one mode of interpreting this and other Tavener pieces, which can be seen to possess a greater interpretive ambiguity and ‘inner life’ of musical construction than he – along with other composers of ‘spiritual minimalism’ – is sometimes given credit for (eg Fisk 1994). Through its ultimately enriching dichotomy of materials and technique, To a Child Dancing in the Wind could even be seen to reconcile two major strands of post-WWII compositional thought (often seen as antithetical): (post-)serialism and minimalism.

Item Type: Book Section
Research Areas: A. > School of Media and Performing Arts > Performing Arts > Music group
Item ID: 24998
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Depositing User: Brian Inglis
Date Deposited: 19 Sep 2018 14:34
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2022 18:14
URI: https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/24998

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