Advent Calendar Day 20: The Lamb – Tavener

From medieval lyrics with a modern melody to a very modern lullaby, and from the 18th century to the 20th.  John Tavener apparently wrote this piece as a birthday present for his three year old nephew.  My niece is three, and I clearly missed an opportunity here.  (Then again, since she spent much of my mother’s most recent choir concert with a scowl on her face and her fingers stuck firmly in her ears, perhaps not…)

Tavener wrote this piece in 1982, and while it is absolutely nothing like JS Bach in sound, I feel that it is reminiscent of Bach’s work in its mathematical sensibilities.  Tavener gives you a two bar melody, then turns it upside-down for the alto line, then mixes it up to create a new two bar melody, and then gives you *that* melody backwards, and so forth.  It is an absolute nightmare to sing (especially if you only get the music a few hours before the performance…), but it does sound gorgeous when it comes together – I love the bits when it goes from atonal weirdness into these beautiful, haunting melodies and harmonies.

The lyrics are taken from William Blake’s poem, The Lamb, from his Songs of Innocence.

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