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Peter Maxwell Davies: Taverner

2 hours, 20 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 28 November 2009

With a performance from City Halls, Glasgow's mini-festival celebrating Peter Maxwell Davies' 75th birthday comes to an end with a concert performance of his iconic morality opera Taverner.

This production brings together the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, a cast featuring the best of British vocal talent and combined choirs. Begun in 1956 and premiered in 1972, it is considered by many to be one of the composer's greatest creations. It is based on episodes from the life and times of the English Tudor composer and recounts John Taverner's religious and personal journey from believer to persecutor.

Presented by Tom Service with contributions from the composer and performers, and commentary from Ian McQueen.

Peter Maxwell Davies: Taverner

John Taverner ...... Daniel Norman (tenor)
Richard Taverner ...... Richard Angas (bass)
Cardinal/Archbishop ...... Martyn Hill (tenor)
King/Archangel Michael/Captain ...... Stephen Richardson (bass)
Jester/Death ...... David Wilson-Johnson (bass)
White Abbot ...... Roderick Williams (bass)
Priest/God ...... Andrew Watts (countertenor)
Boys ...... Michael Yeoman, Alasdair Robertson (trebles)
Antichrist/Second Monk ...... Stephen Jeffes (spoken/tenor)
Archangel Gabriel/First Monk ...... Christopher Bowen (tenor)
Rose/Virgin Mary ...... Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama Chamber Choir
University of Glasgow Chapel Choir
Royal Scottish National Orchestra Junior Chorus
Martyn Brabbins (conductor).

  • Interview with Martyn Brabbins

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    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

  • Interview with Peter Maxwell Davies

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    Hear an extended interview between Radio 3 Presenter Tom Service and the composer Peter Maxwell Davies.

    Photo: John Batten

  • Interview with Roderick Williams

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    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)

    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 (tenor)

    Daniel Norman sings the role of John Taverner.

    Photo: Rupert Jefferson

  • Martyn Hill (tenor)

    Martyn Hill (tenor)

    Martyn Hill sings the roles of the Cardinal and the Archbishop.

    Photo: Stu Williamson

  • Stephen Richardson (bass)

    Stephen Richardson (bass)

    Stephen Richardson sings the roles of the King, Archangel Michael and the Captain.

  • David Wilson-Johnson (bass)

    David Wilson-Johnson (bass)

    David Wilson-Johnson sings the roles of the Jester and Death.

  • Roderick Williams (bass)

    Roderick Williams (bass)

    Roderick Williams sings the role of the White Abbot.

    Photo: Keith Saunders

  • Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano)

    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


    [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?...

    Read the full libretto



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