The Lamb - John Tavener

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Context

  • It was written in 1982
  • It is a sacred song
  • Written for a four-part choir
  • Set to an 18th century poem by William Blake
  • It was first sung at a carol serice in Winchester Cathedral on 22 December 1982
  • It is sometimes sung as an anthem at the end of the Anglican service of Evensong
  • "It was composed from seven notes in an afternoon" - Tavner

JOHN TAVNER - THE LAMB - 1982

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Structure

  • The overall form is strophic 
  • Bars 1-10 form a setting of the first verse of the poem
  • Bars 11-20 are the settung if the second verse
  • Although Tanner uses a fuller texture in the second verse, the music is essentially the same
  • The melody of bars 1-2 returns in bars 7-10
  • This gives the idea of ternary form
  • A=bars 1-2
  • B=bars 3-6
  • A1=bars 7-10
  • It is credible to say that this then repeats
  • Although there is examples of ternary form, the piece is in strophic form officially

JOHN TAVNER - THE LAMB - 1982

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Rhythm and Word Setting

  • There is no time signature
  • Although some bars have a distinctly 4/4 feel, others are much freer
  • The rhythm is always guided by the words and not by a regular pulse
  • Barlines are used to mark the end of a line in the poem
  • The word setting mimicks spoken word
  • Syllabic word setting
  • Ocassional mellisma to draw attention to the word
  • The simplicity of the rhythm reflects the innocence of the text
  • The text is more important than the rhythms 

JOHN TAVNER - THE LAMB - 1982

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Texture

  • Opening bar is monophonic 
  • The addition of the altos in bar 2 creates a two part homophony 
  • It is also homorhythmic
  • Bar 7-10 is four bar homophony and it stays this way for the rest of the piece
  • There is homophony and homorhythms throughout the piece 

JOHN TAVNER - THE LAMB - 1982

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Melody

  • The opening bar uses just four notes from the scale of G major
  • This connotes child like innocence 
  • The addition of the altos in bar 2 is n example of bitonality as the altos sign in Eb and sopranos sing in G major
  • Bar 3 is sopranos singing 7 notes, wide use of accidentals
  • Bar 4 is a retrograde version of Bar 3
  • Bars 5-6 is bars 3-4 but with the altos singing a mirror inversion
  • Bars 7-10 is  the opening melody but harmonised for four parts 
  • Bars 11-16 are a rescoring of the first verse but in octaves
  • Soprano's range is very limited (an augmented 5th)
  • The melody's dynamic ranges from pp to mp

JOHN TAVNER - THE LAMB - 1982

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Harmony and Tonality

  • Four pitches in bar 1 define the key of G 
  • Bar 2 is bitonal (G and Eb)
  • All bars start and end on a G (in the melody)
  • The use of a G at the end of a bar reconciles the dissonance in the bar e.g bar 3 and 4
  • Bars 7-10 is in the aeolian mode
  • The aeolian mode (E-F#-G-A-B-C-D-E) 
  • This gives the feel of Em but you can tell its modal because there are no D sharps
  • Tavner has deliberately exploited the ambiguity created by an idea through major keys, bitonality and modality
  • Bars 7-10 - Use of Am9 chord
  • This chord has a 7th and 9th in and Tavner described it as his joy-sorrow chord
  • This highlights the era the piece was composed 
  • The mixture of old and new musical style highlights the post-modernist style of this piece 
  • 7-10 and 17-20 suggest the influence of minimalism

JOHN TAVNER - THE LAMB - 1982

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