Hear Radio 3 Presenter Tom Service in an extended interview with the conductor Martyn Brabbins about working on this performance of Taverner by Peter Maxwell Davies.
Photo: Sasha Gusov
Hear an extended interview between Radio 3 Presenter Tom Service and the composer Peter Maxwell Davies.
Photo: John Batten
Radio 3 Presenter Tom Service talks to bass Roderick Williams about performing the role of the White Abbot in this performance of Taverner.
Photo: Keith Saunders
Martyn Brabbins (conductor) with Peter Maxwell Davies (composer)
Photo taken during rehearsals with BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in November 2009.
Daniel Norman (tenor)
Daniel Norman sings the role of John Taverner.
Photo: Rupert Jefferson
Martyn Hill (tenor)
Martyn Hill sings the roles of the Cardinal and the Archbishop.
Photo: Stu Williamson
Stephen Richardson (bass)
Stephen Richardson sings the roles of the King, Archangel Michael and the Captain.
David Wilson-Johnson (bass)
David Wilson-Johnson sings the roles of the Jester and Death.
Roderick Williams (bass)
Roderick Williams sings the role of the White Abbot.
Photo: Keith Saunders
Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano)
Susan Bickley sings the roles of Rose and the Virgin Mary.
Photo: Samantha Ovens
Preface to the Score by Peter Maxwell Davies
John Taverner was born around 1495, probably in TattershaIl, whence he was summoned in 1526 by Wolsey to Cardinal’s College, Oxford, for the post of “Informator”, which included playing the organ, and looking after the choristers at St. Frideswide’s, now the Cathedral Church of Christ.
In 1528 he was accused, along with others employed at the college, of heresy, but was released from prison at the personal intervention of Cardinal Wolsey.
After the religious changes brought about by Henry VIII, Taverner became an agent of Thomas Cromwell, and a ruthless persecutor and destroyer of monastic establishments. We assume he gave up music – the works we know predate this period.
Foxe records that he “repented him very much that he had made songs to popish ditties in the time of his blindness”, but the fact remains that these “songs” are as fine as anything written in Europe at the time, and constitute some of the best music of our English inheritance.
The letters describing the burning of the Rood and the monk at Boston, quoted in Act Two, Scene 4, are from Taverner’s own hand, addressed to Cromwell.
In the text, I have not only drawn on the few facts known of
Taverner, but combed state papers, letters, contemporary sermons, biographies, diaries, poetry, plays, records of heresy trials, etc., to give the record of John Taverner as wide an application and meaning as possible.
The text, therefore, consists of quotations, applied and ordered to suit the sense and circumstance.
I started sketching it in 1956, while studying in Manchester, and completed the text in 1962 at Princeton, New Jersey, and the music in 1968 in Dorset. After the fire at my cottage there, some of it had to be reworked from sketches.
Peter Maxwell Davies, London, 1970
[The World Premiere of Taverner was given at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, on Wednesday 12 July 1972, conducted by Edward Downes]
© Copyright 1972 by Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Ltd.
Summary of Scenes
Scene One A Courtroom
Scene Two The Chapel
Scene Three The Throne Room
Scene Four The Same
Scene One The Courtroom
Scene Two The Throne Room
Scene Three The Chapel
Scene Four The Market – Place in Boston, Lincolnshire
Read the libretto
ACT ONE, SCENE IRead the full libretto
[A courtroom discovered. Decor, dress, etc., all in bold black and white only. The only colour in this scene to be the Cardinal's scarlet attire. The entrance left-centre raised by a few steps, across it a large black curtain, with St. Michael the Archangel depicted, white, holding sword and balance. Present in the court - a learned council of men, the four witnesses (Taverner's father Richard, his mistress Rose Parrowe, his Priest-Confessor, a boy of his choir-school), also a religious novice stationed by the St. Michael curtain, to work this. As the curtain rises, the White Abbot enters by the St. Michael entrance, and mounts his high Judge's desk. The court is upstanding the White Abbot sits, all are then seated.]
Call John Taverner, musician, blasphemer, corruptor, heretic.
[Enter by St. Michael entrance John Taverner, shackled, led by a monk who takes up a position on the opposite side of the curtain to the novice]
John Taverner, you are accused of possessing heretical books, and of spreading damnable heresies on the holy sacraments, contrary to the law of the Holy Roman Church. How make you answer to these charges?...
Radio 3 Guide to the Opera