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John Tavener, Choral Composer of ‘Song for Athene,’ Dies

Sir John Tavener
British composer Sir John Tavener. Source: Chester Music via Bloomberg

Nov. 12 (Bloomberg) -- John Tavener, a U.K. composer known for works such as “Song for Athene,” played at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, died today at the age of 69.

Tavener, who was a friend of the Beatles in the 1960s and later of the Prince of Wales, died peacefully at home in Child Okeford, Dorset, according to his publisher Chester Music.

The composer first came to public notice when his work “The Whale” was released on the Beatles’ record label Apple.

Tavener’s other works include the cello-led “The Protecting Veil,” which topped the charts in 1992. The epic “The Veil of the Temple” ran for more than six hours.

He will be remembered for many short religious and choral works such as “The Lamb” and “The Tyger.” He was honored with a knighthood in 2000.

Tavener had suffered health problems including a heart attack in 2007. He was also diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome and said near-death experiences had influenced his austere music, sometimes described as “Holy Minimalism.” His work was compared to the compositions of contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Part and also to English musician John Taverner (1490-1545).

Tavener had recently appeared on radio to talk about the London premiere of his latest work “Three Shakespeare Sonnets,” which takes place in Southwark Cathedral on Nov. 15.

“The most important thing about music is not what one writes down,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg in 2007. “It is what is left out. One should move towards silence.”

(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Frederik Balfour on Asian art, James Russell on architecture and Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night.

To contact the writer on the story: Mark Beech in London at or

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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