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November 12th, 2013

Sir John Tavener dies: British, Christian, music composer who composed ‘The Beautiful Names’ based on 99 names of God in Islam

BBC News today reports:

"Sir John Tavener, one of the leading British composers of the 20th and 21st Centuries, has died at the age of 69. Sir John was known for music that drew on his deep spirituality."

In his obituary it is stated:

"In 2007, the BBC Symphony Orchestra premiered his work The Beautiful Names, which is based on the 99 names of Allah from the Koran."

Sir John himself explained:

"The 99 beautiful names of Allah (God) as culled from The Koran have formed the basis and inspiration of my work The Beautiful Names set in Arabic.   It was composed in 2004.   The divine names fall into two categories those of majesty and those of mercy.   The 99 names are universal insofar as they are theophanies of the eternal primordial being.  A companion of the prophet Mohammed said “I never saw anything without seeing God”,  Man’s mission therefore is to join the outward to the inward.   This is the aspiration of The Beautiful Names and perhaps by doing this in the language of music one may contribute a little to the appalling strife that permeates the modern world.   The Beautiful Names came to me as a vision. I meditated on the individual names on an almost daily basis and the music seemed to come to me fully grown.   It was never random or chaotic but seemed to have the logic of cosmic music or the music of the spheres.

I regard The Beautiful Names highly and think of it as one of the most important of my works.   It was first performed in Westminster Cathedral in front of a large throng and in the presence of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales who commissioned it and to whom it is dedicated.   It was later performed at a very moving occasion in Istanbul.   Critics noticed the unlikely influences of Beethoven and Elgar, which I can now hear after listening to it again." (See this link)

His obituary in The Guardian says:

"Never afraid of controversy, Tavener found it head-on with The Beautiful Names (2007), a meditation on the 99 names of Allah which was given its premiere in Westminster Cathedral, much to the consternation of many Catholics, who staged an open-air demonstration before the performance. Nonetheless, the work was warmly received, and the critic Robert Maycock observed that "if Tavener were to write nothing else, this would surely stand as a summation of what he has tried to achieve".

Before its opening in June 2007, the British daily The Telegraph carried an article about it, which begins:

"God will be invoked in Arabic in Westminster Cathedral on June 19, with the first performance of Sir John Tavener's The Beautiful Names. Sir John's work, commissioned by the Prince of Wales, lasts for 70 minutes and will be performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the choir of the cathedral.

Some will think it odd to call God by the name Allah in a Christian church. But Allah is simply the Arabic for God, just as God is Deus in Latin, Bog in Russian.

The word Allah refers to the same God that Jews and Christians worship. There is no doubt of that." (see this link)

Would the courts of Malaysia care to comment? Should this work be banned?

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