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ClassicsOnline Home » TAVENER, J.: Pratirūpa (version for piano and string orchestra) (van Raat, Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic, Falletta)
John Tavener’s music is powerfully linked to his lifetime exploration of the metaphysical and spiritual, in search of truth beyond worldly concerns. Heard here in its version for soloist and strings, Pratirūpa is one of Tavener’s longer piano works, its title a Sanskrit word meaning ‘reflection’. This Universalist meditative starting point sees the ensemble become its own reflection, the evocative sounds of the piano echoed and transformed by the orchestra, rendering the magical resonances of each both separate and indistinguishable at the same time. Ralph van Raat’s solo recording of Pratirūpa and other piano music by Tavener is available on Naxos 8.570442, and he can also be heard performing Arvo Pärt “with both sensitivity and verve” (BBC Music Magazine on 8.572525).
John Tavener was born in Wembley Park, London in 1944. He attended Arnold House and Highgate School as a music scholar, going on to study under Sir Lennox Berkeley at the Royal Academy of Music from 1962 and first coming to the attention of the general public in 1966, with the premiere of his wild oratorio The Whale. This work, subsequently released on The Beatles’ Apple Records label, brought the composer a great popular success which he would not pursue, and which therefore would not return to the same extent until some years later. This was after a long period during which he contemplated his beliefs and their meaning for his true hopes as a composer.
Throughout his life Tavener felt bound to matters beyond those of worldly, human experience. From his earliest fascinations with the elements, ritual and death, he was set on a course of dogged exploration of the metaphysical and spiritual, in search of some truth not perceptible through the lens of everyday concerns. His first formal religious encounters were with the Presbyterian Church, followed by the Catholic, before his conversion to Russian Orthodoxy in 1977. This tradition’s music, art and manner of worship reflect its gentle emphasis on the constancy of God and the importance of barring the human ego from one’s veneration of Him. Tavener’s immersion in Orthodoxy and his frequent sojourns in Greece throughout the late 1970s and the 1980s saw him begin to find his compositional ‘voice’; it was charged with conveying truly all his thoughts, emotions and experiences relating to these profound concerns.
Once firmly tethered to the solid foundation of Orthodoxy, Tavener felt free to explore further, and eventually became fascinated by a doctrine termed Universalism, built around the conviction that all religions are simply different expressions of the same underlying spiritual reality. By the time of writing Pratirūpa, Tavener was greatly influenced by these ideas, as well as having begun to incorporate Hinduism and Sufism—a facet of Islam—into his understanding of religious belief.
Here in the version for soloist and string orchestra, Pratirūpa is one of Tavener’s longer works for solo piano and takes as its title a Sanskrit word meaning ‘reflection’. It was inspired by the idea that the pupil of each person’s eye reflects the presence within them of the fundamental life force, whether this be called God or Brahman, whether it be identified as a single entity or an ultimate reality. Thus the ensemble becomes its own reflection through a series of melodies, harmonies, resonances and rhythms played by the piano and echoed by the orchestra, which mirrors and yet transforms them. Just as the two elements are at once separate and indistinguishable, the beginning and end of each becoming blurred by the effect of pratirūpa, so each person is both individuated from and identical to the universe.
Although Tavener was ever adamant that one should listen to his work ‘as pure music’ alongside any other concerns, the metaphysical intent of Pratirūpa may, once understood, help the listener to enjoy its meditative quality, quite without ‘argument’. In contemplating the work’s reflective action, Tavener hoped that the listener might be delivered to a kind of hypnotic ecstasy as the resonances gradually ‘die to themselves’—also an idea common to many religions, which describes the necessity of relinquishing worldly desires and motivations in order to absorb, and be absorbed into, an ultimate truth.
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TAVENER, J.: Pratirūpa (version for piano and stri...