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Characteristic of Tavener’s music is a tendency towards inner stillness through sustained chords, and a preoccupation with aspects of religious ritual—such as a solemn procession. The ecstatic nature of his music has inevitably led to comparisons with the music of Olivier Messiaen.
The Three Antiphons for unaccompanied choir were completed on 25 January 1995 in response to a commission by the World War II Commemorations Team and St Paul’s Cathedral. The work was first performed on 7 May that year at St Paul’s, on the occasion of the Service of Thanksgiving, Reconciliation and Hope to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the war in Europe. The composer has provided the following note with this work:
The texts of these Three Antiphons are taken from the Psalms and from Isaiah. The music should be performed soberly and with dignity, without any triumphalism. In the first, a small group of tenors and basses should be positioned at a distance from the main choir. In the last, which represents the Prophet's vision of 'the new Jerusalem' (something beyond our comprehension), a small group of sopranos and altos singing Alleluia represents angels. If possible, these singers should be placed in a high gallery so that their sound seems to come from the heavens.
from notes by William McVicker © 1996