‘A Western Christian tends to aspire to God … whereas the Eastern Orthodox Christian is already aware of the divine presence … Even in composers like Victoria or Palestrina, there is always aspiration. But if you listen to the music of the East, somehow the divine is already there.’ In these words Sir John Tavener also summed up the appeal of his own music, music which touched hearts all round the world when his Song for Athene
was sung at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, in Westminster Abbey in 1997. And his own memorial service was held there in June 2014, six months after his untimely death on 12 November the previous year. Dedicated to the Fallen of both World Wars, The peace that surpasseth understanding
was commissioned jointly by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey and the Ministry of Defence, and premiered on Armistice Day 2009.
‘In this setting of Saint Paul’s great statement,’ Tavener said, ‘I have tried in a simple and primordial manner to suggest majesty, solemnity and a radiance of peace and bliss. I have also given the music a ceremonial nature by inserting ‘Alleluias’ sounding from Heaven (semi-chorus), gradually rising in pitch until they are answered by ‘Alleluias’ from the World (main choir). The music forms a gradual crescendo reflecting the meaning of the words. At the musical and spiritual climax, the full organ sounds four chords which represent the Four Angels before the Throne of God. The final chord then transforms into the sacred monosyllable ‘OM’, which hums around the building, representing the Peace and Beatitude of God’s Presence.’
from notes by David Gammie © 2014