Hyperion monthly sampler – April 2014
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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
Movement 5: Triagion II Agios o Theos
Movement 6: Phos II
Movement 7: Epiphania
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