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John Tavener, composer made famous by The Beatles, dies aged 69

English artist made famous by The Beatles is known for his mournful song at Diana's funeral

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 November, 2013, 7:54pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 November, 2013, 3:38am
 

British composer John Tavener, whose career was boosted with the help of The Beatles and who is often remembered for the mournful song performed as Princess Diana's coffin was carried out of Westminster Abbey, has died at the age of 69.

Tavener's publisher, Chester Music, said he died at his home in Child Okeford, southern England, on Tuesday.

Born and trained in London, Tavener composed the beautiful Song for Athene - reworked as Songs of Angels - that caught the public's mood at Diana's funeral. His wistful, elegant setting of William Blake's poem The Lamb (1982) became a staple of Christmas carol services.

"I think there are an awful lot of artists around who are very good at leading us into hell," Tavener once said. "I would rather someone would show me the way to paradise."

[He was] one of the unique and most inspired voices of the last 50 years
JAMES RUSHTON, PUBLISHER

An imposing figure, Tavener was strikingly tall - 1.98 metres - thin, and wore his hair long. James Rushton, managing director of Chester Music, called Tavener "one of the unique and most inspired voices in music of the last 50 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," Rushton said.

Tavener's music was distinguished by quiet passages and other-worldly intensity and moments of ecstasy. He spoke of some compositions arriving instantaneously in his mind.

"If one is going to create this eternal, celestial music, one has got to listen, to be silent, to hear the angel of inspiration dictate," he said in his 60th year.

Tavener was born into a music-loving family in north London. At an early age he began to improvise and compose at the piano. Abandoning an ambition to be a concert pianist, Tavener studied composition at London's Royal Academy of Music.

His 1968 cantata The Whale brought him fame with the help of The Beatles, who released it on their Apple records label.

Tavener caught the interest of John Lennon and Yoko Ono at a party by playing his opera, Notre Dames des Fleurs, inspired by Jean Genet's novel about a prisoner's sexual fantasies.

Associated Press

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