Friday, November 15, 2013

Song for Athene (Tavener)

Sung here by the Westminster Abbey Choir.

From Wikipedia:
"Song for Athene", which has a performance time of about four minutes,[4] is an elegy consisting of the Hebrewword alleluia ("let us praise the LORD") sung monophonically six times as an introduction to texts excerpted and modified from the funeral service of the Eastern Orthodox Church and from Shakespeare's Hamlet (probably 1599–1601).[4] The lyrics were written by Mother Thekla (18 July 1918 – 7 August 2011), an Orthodox nun who co-founded the Orthodox Monastery of the Assumption near WhitbyNorth Yorkshire, and whom Tavener called his "spiritual mother". Tavener had come away from the funeral of Athene Hariades with the music of Song for Athene fully formed in his mind. He called Mother Thekla the same day, and said to her: "I want words." She sent him the lyrics by post, which arrived the next day.[6]

The music reaches a climax after the sixth intonation of alleluia with the lines "Weeping at the grave creates the song: Alleluia. Come, enjoy rewards and crowns I have prepared for you." Alleluia is then sung a seventh time as a coda. Following the example of traditional Byzantine music, a continuous ison[7] or drone underlies the work.[4]

Lyrics Original texts Source
Alleluia. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. Horatio: Now cracks a noble heart. – Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!
Hamlet, Act V Scene ii,[8]c. f. In paradisum
Alleluia. Remember me, O Lord, when you come into your kingdom. O thou who reignest over life and death, in the courts of thy Saints grant rest unto him [her] whom thou hast removed from temporal things. And remember me also, when thou comest into thy kingdom. Orthodox funeral service,[9]Luke 23:42
Alleluia. Give rest, O Lord, to your handmaid, who has fallen asleep. Where the choirs of the Saints, O Lord, and of the Just, shine like the stars of heaven, give rest to thy servant who hath fallen asleep, regarding not all his [her] transgressions. Orthodox funeral service
Alleluia. The Choir of Saints have found the well-spring of life and door of Paradise. The Choir of the Saints have found the Fountain of Lifeand the Door of Paradise. May I also find the right way, through repentance. I am a lost sheep. Call me, O Saviour, and save me. Orthodox funeral service
Alleluia. Life: a shadow and a dream. Guildenstern: Which dreams, indeed, are ambition; for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.
Hamlet: A dream itself is but a shadow.
Hamlet, Act II scene ii
Alleluia. Weeping at the grave creates the song: Alleluia. Come, enjoy rewards and crowns I have prepared for you. Thou only art immortal, who hast created and fashioned man. For out of the earth were we mortals made, and unto the earth shall we return again, as thou didst command when thou madest me, saying unto me: For earth thou art, and unto the earth shalt thou return. Whither, also, all we mortals wend our way, making of our funeral dirge the song: Alleluia.... Ye who have trod the narrow way most sad; all ye who, in life, have taken upon you the Cross as a yoke, and have followed Me through faith, draw near: Enjoy ye the honours and the crowns which I have prepared for you. Orthodox funeral service

From the YouTube page:
"Song for Athene is another elegiac tribute, not, as one might suppose, to the mythological goddess Athene, but to a young family friend, Athene Hariades, half Greek, a talented actress who was tragically killed in a cycling accident. "Her beauty," write Tavener, "both outward and inner, was reflected in her love of acting, poetry, music and of the Orthodox Church." Tavener had heard Athene reading Shakespeare in Westminster Abbey and, rather as in the case of the Little Requiem, conceived the piece after her funeral, lighting on the effective ideas, so touchingly realized, of combining words from the Orthodox liturgy with lines from Hamlet. Between each is a monodic "Alleluia", and, following the example of traditional Byzantine music, the whole piece unfolds over a continuous "ison" or drone.

Song for Athene perfectly exemplifies that inner serenity, purity and radiance which gives Tavener's music its consolatory attraction in troubled times. " Richard Steinitz

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