Song of the Cosmos

Sir John Tavener (1944)

Song of the Cosmos 2000

0000 - 4500 - perc(4) - organ - strings

Song of the Cosmos contains only four Greek words: Agios (Holy), Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy), and Sofia (The Holy Wisdom). The performers are divided into four groups. The first group (Soprano, Bandir Drum, String Quintet, Large Tibetan Temple Bowl and Tamtam) represents the heavens, and should be placed in the highest and most remote space available. The soprano denotes Sofia, the ecstatic female part of the Godhead.

The second group (SATB choir, Trumpets, Timpani, Medium Tibetan Temple Bowl and Tamtam) and the third group (SATB choir, Trombones and Strings) represent the Angels and the Earth respectively. The second group should be raised slightly above the third. Both choirs sing in ecstasy Agios (Holy), to God, representing in image and symbol the marriage of heaven and earth. The fourth, and final group, occupies the main platform, and consists of Solo Bass, Tomtoms, Strings, Large Tibetan Temple Bowl and Tamtam. It represents The Cry for Mercy.

The organ sounds only at the very end. Though optional, it should be used when the building possesses one, because its symbolic entrance at the beginning of the last section, then to be suddenly cut off, is metaphysically very important. The whole of Song of the Cosmos forms a kind of crescendo, leading to the incomplete final section which denotes the summit of man's reasoning and understanding. We can go no further.

The pulse and rhythm of the matras permeate the whole piece. These cosmic rhythms, which exist literally "outside" time, derive from the ancient and sacred Indian Rig-Veda, which in turn became the Samaveda. These complex, sacred and esoteric rhythms must sound absolutely natural, therefore an exact adherence to the notated rhythms is less important than the relentlessly ecstatic flow of the music. The onus of this falls predominantly in the music for the Solo Bass, who should be trained by an Indian master.

John Tavener


The orchestra is divided into four groups as follows:

Group I: large Tibetan temple bowl/very large tam/bandir drum/str(
Group II: 4tpt/med Tibetan temple bowl/very large tam/timp
Group III: 5tbn/strings
Group IV: solo tomtoms/large Tibetan temple bowl/very large tam/org/strings

4.8.01 BBC Proms, London: The Bach Choir/BBC Philharmonic Orchesra /Waynflete Singers/David Hill/Yan Pascal Tortelier
(approx.) medium & large Tibetan temple bowls, very large tam, bandir drum, timpani, solo tomtoms