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John Tavener

Publisher: Chester Music

Akathist of Thanksgiving (1987)
Text Writer
Arch-Priest Gregory Petrov, trans. Mother Thekla
Chester Music Ltd
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
1 Hour 20 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
2 Altos, 2[+] Countertenors, Tenor, Baritone, 2 Basses

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Programme Note
John Tavener Akathist of Thanksgiving (1987)
The Akathist in the Orthodox church is a hymn of thanksgiving or supplication used on special occasions, and has a standard form comprising 13 sections, each one made up of a Kontakion and an Ikos.

This Akathist of Thanksgiving was written in the late 1940s by Archpriest Gregory Petrov, shortly before his death in a Siberian prison camp. He took as his inspiration the dying words of the martyr St John Chrysostom "Glory to God for everything", and created within the traditional set patterns of Kontakion and Ikos a soaring hymn of radiant faith, an ikon in words which at once illustrates the mortality of mankind and the fundamental Orthodox belief that all creation, great and small, stems from God.

I have set 11 sections of the poem: each is musically distinct, beginning with a chorus Glory to Thee, O God, and ending with a refrain of Amen, both sung in Slavonic. The intervening texts contain many allusions to the Feast Days of the Church, and here I have used the appropriate 'tones' from both Russian and Byzantine systems. The work is scored for a large choir, soloists (mainly countertenors and basses, who may be chosen from the choir), separate groups of solo voices, and a string orchestra with bells and timpani, placed at a distance from the other forces.

The text of the Akathist of Thanksgiving has been translated from the Russian by Mother Thekla, Abbess of the Orthodox Monastery of the Assumption, Normanby. I have composed my setting, a musical ikon to the glory of God, in celebration of the millenium of the Russian Orthodox Church.

John Tavener

Preview the score

  • Ensemble
    Westminster Abbey Choir / BBC Singers / BBC Symphony Orchestra
    Martin Neary
  • Ensemble
    Various including Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Taverner Choir, Westminster Abbey Choir, English Chamber Orchestra, BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Orchestra
    Various including Yo-Yo Ma, cello / Claron McFadden, soprano / James Bowman, counter-tenor / Timothy Wilson, counter-tenor / Martin Baker, organ
    Various including David Zinman / Andrew Parrott / Martin Neary
Given adequate rehearsal, a proper performing space and an assured hand at the podium, this is music that can make a powerful effect, as it did Friday night before a large audience at the Cathedral of St Paul, with Philip Brunelle conducting. He has long been a champion of Tavener’s, and he knows that this is 90 minutes of music that can’t be hurried along. It is full of ravishing moments: gradually evolving and overlapping phrases that seemed to merge and linger exquisitely in the upper reaches of the cathedral. Here was music that requires an echo. The striking of tubular bells that ends each section added to the sense of ancient drama and ritual.
Michael Anthony, Minneapolis Star Tribune,01/05/1996
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