Tavener - 'The Lamb'

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  • John Tavener was born in 1944
  • best known for choral music - rooted in the liturgy of the orthodox church

'The Lamb'

  • composed in 1982
  • sets a poem from Songs of Innocence by William Blake (1757-1872)
  • can be termed an anthem -  a work with English text for the choir to sing in a church service
  • the poem is addressed to a lamb, with a play on words in verse 2 - the lamb of God who 'became a little church' is Jesus Christ
  • the song is often performed at Christmas (note the phrase 'became a little child'), having been widely heard in the broadcast Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge in 1982
  • one of Tavener's best known works

Performing forces and their handling

  • 'The Lamb' is
    • for four-part choir (sopranos, altos, tenors and basses in the sccore, although the highest part can be sung by trebles)
    • unaccompanied
  • the ranges of the upper parts are narrow:
    • soprano: Eb - B (just an augmented 5th, fairly low in the range) and only a perfect 4th at the beginning and end of each verse
    • alto: D - B (major 6th); often sounds below the soprano, but the overall range is virtually the same
    • tenor: Eb - D (major 7th)
  • the bass moves mostly within the major 9th A - B; low Es at the end of each verse provide special depth and weight
  • some passages aren't easy to sing - there are 'difficult' melodic and harmonic intervals with unusual tonality


  • verse 1:
    • monophony - soprano in bar 1
    • two part - soprano and alto in bar 2; this section is homorhythmic and the melodic interest is shared between the parts
    • monophony - soprano in bars 3 and 4
    • two part - soprano and alto in bars 5 and 6
    • four part - soprano, alto, tenor and bass in bars 7 to 10; in this section the texture is homophonic with the soprano holding the main melodic interest and the other parts providing harmonic support
  • verse 2
    • octaves - soprano and alto in one octave, tenor and bass an octave below in bar 11 (contrasts with monophony in bar 1)
    • the two parts are doubled at the octave - soprano and tenor have one part, alto and bass have the other in bar 12 (contrasts with the 'ordinary' two part writing)
    • octaves - bars 13 and 14 (contrasting with monophony)
    • two parts doubled at the octave - bars 15 and 16 (contrasting with 'ordinary' two part writing)
    • four parts - bars 17 and 20


  • William Blake's poem has two stanzas
  • Tavener uses the same musical material for both, despite textural changes, meaning his piece is overall strophic
  • musical structure differs slightly from the poetic structure
    • poetic strucure: five couplets (pairs of lines) in each stanza:
      • couplet 1 has two similar six-syllable lines
      • 5 has the same line twice
      • 2, 3 and 4 are rhyming couplets with seven-syllable lines
    • the structure of each stanza might be labelled:


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