In 2000 Sir John Tavener was commissioned to write a piece to place the Temple Church, in the City of London, more firmly on the musical map. He worked with Stephen Layton, then Director of Music and Organist at the church, who sought ” to commission something absolutely extraordinary from Tavener”
Tavener’s response was to compose ‘The Veil of the Temple’, an 850-page score setting out an all-night vigil, a “journey towards God” intended to reconcile people and religions, which achieved its world premiere in July 2003.
“I regard The Veil of the Temple as the supreme achievement of my life and the most important work that I have ever composed”, wrote Tavener. The piece comprises eight cycles which last well over seven hours, taking the audience through the night until dawn.
Wherwell Singers will open their Christmas 2014 concert with an extract from The Veil of the Temple: ‘Mother of God, Here I Stand’, which comes about half way through the work. The Guardian’s reviewer at the world premiere commented:
“I am entranced by the setting of a Lermontov poem that begins “Mother of God”, and wouldn’t mind hearing just that, over and over again, for the rest of the night”
Another reviewer describes this piece: “Brief, slow and pianissimo throughout, it creates an atmosphere of devotional stillness”
The words are based on a prayer by famous romantic Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov (1814 – 1842), a contemporary of Pushkin who was heavily influenced by Lord Byron. A translation of the full prayer reads:
Faithful before thee, Mother of God, now kneeling,
Image miraculous and merciful — of thee
Not for my soul’s health nor battles waged, beseeching,
Nor yet with thanks or penitence o’erwhelming me!
Not for myself,– my heart with guilt o’erflowing —
Who in my home land e’er a stranger has remained,
No, a sinless child upon thy mercy throwing,
That thou protect her innocence unstained!
Worthy the highest bliss, with happiness O bless her!
Grant her a friend to stand unchanging at her side,
A youth of sunshine and an old age tranquil,
A spirit where together peace and hope abide.
Then, when strikes the hour her way from earth for wending,
Let her heart break at dawning or at dead of night —
From out thy highest heaven thy fairest angel sending
The fairest of all souls sustain in heavenward flight!
Guardian Review of World Premiere
Sir John Tavener’s website
Stephen Layton’s interesting webpage about the work and his relationship with Tavener
Marcus Huxley, Organists’ Review