Hyperion Records

Ikon of Light
composer
1983; written for The Tallis Scholars who gave the first performance with the Leda String Trio at the Cheltenham Festival in July 1984
author of text

Recordings
'Tavener: Ikon of Light' (GIMSE404)
Tavener: Ikon of Light
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'Hyperion monthly sampler – April 2014' (HYP201404)
Hyperion monthly sampler – April 2014
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Details
Movement 1: Phos I
Movement 2: Dhoxa
Movement 3: Trisagion I  Agios o Theos
Movement 4: Mystic Prayer to the Holy Spirit  Elthe to phos to alithinon
Track 4 on GIMSE404 [20'25] Gimell (budget price) NEW
Track 8 on HYP201404 [20'25] Download-only monthly sampler NEW
Movement 5: Triagion II  Agios o Theos
Movement 6: Phos II
Movement 7: Epiphania

Ikon of Light
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Ikon of Light was given its premiere by The Tallis Scholars and the Leda String Trio at the Cheltenham Festival in July 1984. It is a work that encapsulates in many ways, and in monumental style, the composer’s espousal of an astounding simplicity to convey highly complex theological concepts. Tavener has recourse in Ikon of Light to the mystical texts of St Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022). It is symmetrically structured, centred on an extended, radiant setting of St Symeon’s Mystic Prayer to the Holy Spirit:

Come, true light. Come, life eternal. Come, hidden mystery. Come, treasure without name. Come, reality beyond all words. Come, person beyond all understanding. Come, rejoicing without end. Come, light that knows no evening. Come, unfailing expectation of the saved. Come, raising of the fallen. Come, resurrection of the dead.

St Symeon’s writings are suffused with the idea of God as light. He received a vision of the Divine Light when aged about twenty, and seven years later became a monk. Tavener’s setting of this invocation allows him to give full rein to his melodic gifts, over a range of four octaves, and the gradual increase in intensity and the sense of movement-within-stasis create an extraordinary and intense luminosity fully expressive of St Symeon’s vision. The melodic material is essentially derived from a descending scalic figure (G to C), with subsequent melodic extensions, passed between each voice and accompanied by a drone. This figure builds to a sustained, luminous full-choir drone on a C major chord (actually ending on a first inversion). There is then an interlude for string trio, and at the choir’s re-entry, the thematic scale returns in inversion, built now on a minor scale and melodically different. As in the first section, the drone builds to a full chord, this time G minor. Another interlude follows, built on the inverted scale, and then choir and trio come radiantly together, with the original melodic continuation of the scale stated in stretto.

The shorter movements on either side are related to each other symmetrically – I to VI, II to VII and III to V. They amplify and comment on the central idea of light: Tavener simply sets, in Greek, the words phos (light), dhoxa (glory) and epiphania (shining forth), and the Trisagion (‘Holy God, Holy mighty, Holy immortal, have mercy upon us’). The four outer movements, ‘Phos I’, ‘Dhoxa’, ‘Phos II’ and ‘Epiphania’, are apparently static sonic blocks, but in fact they have recourse to the composer’s frequently employed techniques of canon and palindrome, often resulting in considerable dissonance, and are organized around very precisely indicated silences (parts of the above discussion are drawn from the chapter on Tavener’s music in my forthcoming book, Modernism and Orthodox Spirituality in Contemporary Music).

from notes by Ivan Moody © 2014

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