Frithjof Schuon (1907–1998) was a metaphysician, and also a Sufi sheikh. As well as an extensive body of writings expounding his religious views, he left the verses set by Tavener in Schuon Hymnen, encapsulating his vision of the Virgin as a ‘primordial and universal woman’. Tavener has reinforced what he describes as the ‘sacral erotic nature’ of Schuon’s words by adding the phrase ‘Nigra sum sed formosa’ (‘I am black but comely’) from the Song of Songs, and the Arabic salutation ‘May peace and blessings be upon thee, Mary’. The work is characterized by a verse-and-refrain structure: Tavener repeats Schuon’s Biblical quotation, ‘Mit der Sonne nur bekleidet’ (‘Clothed with the sun alone’), obsessively throughout the course of the work, with the direction ‘like a repeated mantra’, interspersing it with luminous, floating chordal sections.
from notes by Ivan Moody © 2004