Song for Athene
John Tavener


Listen to this piece at now

Tavener is an Ultimate Hall of Fame One Hit Wonder. This first appeared in the chart in 1998, after it was performed at the funeral of Princess Diana. It stayed in the Hall of Fame until 2006 and has only made one other appearance since then, in the 2014 chart, after the death of the composer.

Sir John Tavener had this to say about Athene, the inspiration for his most famous work: "Her beauty, both outward and inner, was reflected in her love of acting, poetry and music."

Rather than being about the Greek goddess of war, as many people presume, Song for Athene was written after the funeral of the daughter of a family friend — Athene Hariades — in 1993. She was an actress whom Tavener had heard reading Shakespeare and her death prompted him to amalgamate Shakespeare-derived passages with those of the orthodox funeral service. Although it was not written by the time of Athene's funeral, its performance at another one, that of Diana, Princess of Wales, brought it to national and international attention.

Its sound-world is decidedly individual, refusing to bow down before any one style. It's neither old nor new — it's simply Tavener, haunting his audience and raging at them in turns. One of the features of the music is that it is almost inaudible at times and then suddenly bursts into almost deafening life. Although it's usually a choral piece, special mention should be made of the arrangement made for Nicola Benedetti on the violin, with string accompaniment.