John Tavener

Band members                             Related acts

- John Tavener -- keyboards, pipes

- Raimund Herinecx -- baritone

- Alvar Liidell -- spoken word

- Anna Reynold - mezzo soprano 




- Lennox Berkeley





Genre: classical

Rating: 2 stars **

Title:  The Whale

Company: Apple

Catalog: SMAS 3369

Country/State: London, England

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: US pressing; gatefold sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 6386

Price: $30.00


Today he's known as Sir John Taverner (he was knighted in 2000) and his 1970 release "The Whale" on The Beatles Apple label is a sought-after oddity - well I guess it can be described as an oddity, unless you happen to be a big fan of avant-garde classical music.


I won't spend a great deal of time on Tavener's biography since you can readily find that splashed across the web.  He attended the Highgate School and the Royal Academy of Music and as a 22 year old made waves writing "The Whale".  Loosely based on the biblical tale of Jonah, three years later Tavener's cantata made its debut with the London Sinfonietta and the London Sinfonietta Chorus.  Conducted by David Atherton and showcasing the talents of mezzo-soprano Anna Reynold and baritone Raimund Herinecx, the performance won critical acclaim.  Gawd only knows why, but Ringo Starr was apparently the driving force behind getting Tavener signed to The Beatles newly formed Apple label, which subsequently released an abbreviated version of "The Whale" in 1970.  This version was recorded at London's Church of St. John in July 1970.  


Pulled from the album liner notes, here's what Tavener had to say about the album:  "This was the first idea which came to me: these notes and the rhythmic interversion form the basis of a fantasy on the Biblical allegory 'Jonah and he Whale'.  A fantasy which grew around the text for the Vulgate and at times moved so far from it that I decided to call he piece 'he Whale'.  Sectus bells was another sound from out of which the piece grew and a chance purchase of some bells proved their pitches and intervals to be relevant to the music.  Ideas were very abundant in the first stages of 'The Whale' and I owe a great deal to the constant enthusiasm and encouragement shown at this and at all times by David Lumsdaine.  The 'fantasy' grew and perhaps at times nearly 'swallowed; the biblical text; so the swallowing of Jonah became almost 'literal' in a musical sense.  The sections which are pure 'fantasy' in 'The Whale' are informed by a deliberate monotony, and are always characterized by a rather dry 'drum-beat'.  These sections occur three times in the piece, firs at the beginning, hen at the middle of the 'Melodrama and Pantomime' in a very soft bell-like passage representing the storm, and finally towards the end of the prayer when Jonah is in the belly of the Whale.  Thus, the piece 'drawn' looks something like this ..."   "The Whale" is a very exciting musical experience for me, and the composition of it took over a year with only a few interruptions (It may be superficial interest to note that I visited Cornwall at the height of winter in an abortive attempt to see a real whale._  The 'banalities; of the 'belly music' at times threatened to invade the whole score, which is not surprising, because 'The Whale' is to some extent involved in the opera which I have been writing since completing 'The Whale', and which deal much more specifically with 'banality'.  The composition of 'The Whale' was completed in Tythe Barn at the home of Lady Birley to whom the work is dedicated."


So I'll be honest and readily admit that getting through these two sides was one of the toughest things I've ever had to listen to.  As mentioned, this is avant-garde classical music which means most rock fans will want zilch to do with it.  Full of bizarre song fragments, Latin and Irish lyrics, the whole thing sounds like the soundtrack to a third rate Exorcist flick knockoff.  Nothing here is in the least bit commercial, or catchy.  In fact, this is one of those albums you could readily slap on the turntable if you ever needed to quickly clear out a party, or get people to pay attention to a fire alarm.  (For Beatles fanatics, about eight minutes into side one you can hear Ringo in the background.)


"The Whale" track listing:
(side 1)

Part 1  - 18:30

1.) Opening Section   (John Tavener)

2.) Biblical Narrative   (John Tavener)

3.) Melodrama and Pantomime   (John Tavener) 

4.) Storm   (John Tavener)

5.) End of Map   (John Tavener)


(side 2)

Part 2 - 13:15
1.) Prayer    (John Tavener)

2.) In the Belly of the Whale   (John Tavener)

3.) End of Prayer   (John Tavener)

4.) Vomit On the Sand   (John Tavener)



Who knows why, but in 1977 Ringo Starr elected to reissue the album on his on Ring'O Records (Catalog number No. 2320 104).  Same music, but different cover art ...  The set also saw a 1993 CD release (Apple catalog number CDASPC)R 20).