John Tavener - Funeral Canticle / Kliros
The other night, I fell asleep to watching the Tree of Life… (which, if there’s any movie to fall asleep to, it’s that). For the past few days, this has been on my mind. Again, not necessarily world music, but Tavener, coming from an Orthodox background (similar to Arvo Pärt), makes great use of the characteristic techniques used in Orthodox music.
The Funeral Canticle is broken up into 3 main ideas: 1, the Byzantine-influenced solo chant, a three-stanza poem (written by his friend and mentor, Mother Thekla of the Monastery at Normanby), and the kliros, which is borrowed from the traditional Orthodox funeral service. This piece was written in commemoration of his late father, Kenneth, and Tavener intended for it to be interdenominational in nature (which can be seen in its different sections.
The first section, in Greek (since there isn’t anything on the internet explaining the chant or the transliteration of text) is as follows:
Greek - Αἰωνία ἡμνήμη. Αἰωνία ἡμνήμη. Αἰωνία ἡμνήμη. (Αἰωνία αὐτόυ ἡμνήμη.)
English Transliteration - Eonía emnéemee. Eonía emnéemee. Eonía emnéemee. (Eonía aftóo emnéemee.)
(Rough) English meaning - “May your memory be eternal”
The other texts can be found here: http://lyrics.wikia.com/John_Tavener:Funeral_Ikos
To me, there’s a thread of solemnity and secular nature that runs through the piece. Similar to the traditional music of the Orthodox church, and the music of Arvo Pärt, Tavener’s use of silence and pause is extremely conscientious. In Orthodox music, the concept of “hesychasm”, or stillness, is more of a metaphysical, internal search for peace and contemplativeness. To me, there’s something that speaks with a timelessness and secular contemplation in those pauses before the kliros or settings of the poem.
Also,… if you haven’t yet seen Tree of Life, do it now. Terrence Malick used this piece perfectly, not to mention the movie itself is incredibly beautiful and powerful.