One of the greatest songsmiths of sacred music is English-born composer John Tavener. John Tavener - who is a direct descendant of 16th century composer John Tavener (yes, there are two John Taveners) - is responsible for some of the most beautiful sacred works of the twentieth century, second only to Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. His composition, A Song for Athene (see music on side bar), was performed quite poignantly at Princess Diana's funeral, and his other famous work, The Lamb, has been received around the world with enthusiastic approbation. Featured in this post is one of Tavener’s finest musical operation, Funeral Ikos. Be forewarned - those of you in a rush to get nowhere - it's a little long but well worth the listen. I have included the lyrics so you may follow along. They are magnificent.
Why these bitter words of the dying, O brethren,
which they utter as they go hence?
I am parted from my brethren.
All my friends do I abandon, and go hence.
But whither I go, that understand I not,
neither what shall become of me yonder;
only God who hath summoned me knoweth.
But make commemoration of me with the song:
But whither now go the souls?
How dwell they now together there?
This mystery have I desired to learn,
but none can impart aright.
Do they call to mind their own people, as we do them?
Or have they forgotten all those who mourn them
and make the song:
We go forth on the path eternal,
and as condemned, with downcast faces,
present ourselves before the only God eternal.
Where then is comeliness? Where then is wealth?
Where then is the glory of this world?
There shall none of these things aid us,
but only to say oft the psalm:
If thou hast shown mercy unto man, O man,
that same mercy shall be shown thee there;
and if on an orphan thou hast shown compassion,
the same shall there deliver thee from want,
If in this life the naked thou hast clothed,
the same shall give thee shelter there,
and sing the psalm:
Youth and the beauty of the body
fade at the hour of death,
and the tongue then burneth fiercely,
and the parched throat is inflamed.
The beauty of the eyes is quenched then,
the comeliness of the face all altered,
the shapeliness of the neck destroyed;
and the other parts have become numb,
nor often say:
With ecstacy are we inflamed if we but hear
that there is light eternal yonder;
that there is Paradise,
wherein every soul of Righteous Ones rejoiceth.
Let us all, also, Enter into Christ,
that all we may cry aloud thus unto God: