John Tavener

The Lamb, for chorus

    Description by Jeremy Grimshaw

    John Tavener's setting of William Blake's poem "The Lamb" (from the 1789 publication Songs of Innocence) was performed as part of the traditional "Nine Lessons and Carols" broadcast from King's College, Cambridge, on Christmas Eve, 1982. The composer so wanted Mother Thekla -- his friend, associate, and collaborator -- to hear it that he urged the sagely nun to borrow a radio so she could listen to the program from the convent; he told her to listen for a signal from him that would identify his work, and so, sitting in the audience in Cambridge, he coughed loudly as a sign to Mother Thekla that his piece was about to begin. The music that followed his noisy introduction would turn out to be one of Tavener's best-known works; so commercially successful was the piece that his publisher proclaimed it "the biggest selling choral title in our catalogue, by any composer, living or dead."

    The piece was originally conceived as a birthday present for the composer's nephew Simon on the occasion of his third birthday. One of Tavener's numerous occasional pieces composed for special events in the lives of family and loved ones, the music for The Lamb came to Tavener as an artistic revelation. As Tavener himself recalls: "I looked through the poems of William Blake and I found "The Lamb." I read the words, and immediately I heard the notes." The composer sensed the potential for success in the piece, and immediately sent it to his publisher and arranged for the performance at King's College. He also sent copies to Martin Neary, who would conduct the premiere of the work at the Winchester Cathedral, a few days before the "Nine Lessons and Carols" broadcast.

    The work, scored for a cappella choir, is as gentle and meek as the title implies. Its most striking surface feature is the variation in texture that marks certain divisions in the text. The scoring alternated between three types of color: unison, contrary motion, and full harmony. The haunting melody appears alone at first, as the voices sing together; at the second line, however, the lines are set atop a mirror as a lower line follows in intervallic inversion. Retrograde iterations of the melody follow on the horizontal plane, while the vertical sonorities shimmer with crystalline dissonance. Finally, at the last quatrain of the first verse, the ensemble joins in with lush harmony -- not coincidentally, on the line "Gave thee such a tender voice." The second verse of the poem is given the same musical treatment, with the inverted counterpoint symbolically setting the paradoxical line in which the Creator of the universe becomes a little child. The paradox is reconciled into doctrine with the warm cadential progression of the final four lines.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Signum Classics SIGCD 460
    2016 Raven OAR 974
    2016 BIS BIS 2200
    2016 Vox / Vox Regis VXR 0001
    2016 Daniel Taylor Music / Sony Classical 88985387032
    2015 Avie 2345
    2015 Warner Classics 825646143511
    2015 Danacord / DanaCord DACOCD 752
    2015 Sony Classical
    2015 Linn Records CKD 539
    2014 Warner Classics 2564628790
    2014 Decca
    2014 Decca B001996302
    2014 Gimell GIMSE 404
    2014 Decca 4821681
    2014 Naxos 8505239
    2014 Sony Classical 88875037702
    2013 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099943329
    2013 Carus CV 83381
    2013 Decca
    2013 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099972344
    2013 Smekkleysa SMK 16
    2013 Coro CRO 16116
    2013 Mark Custom Recording / Mark Records 50542 MCD
    2013 Naxos 8572540
    2012 Warner Classics 667006
    2012 Signum Classics SIGCD 283
    2012 Brilliant Classics 9186
    2012 Regent REGCD 388
    2012 Classic FM 28948069965
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099944030
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099968053321
    2012 Warner Classics
    2012 Signum Classics SIGCD 269
    2012 Signum Classics SIGCD 297
    2011 Decca
    2011 Decca 4805207
    2011 Opus Arte 9007
    2011 Signum Classics 235
    2011 Chandos CHSA 5096
    2011 Warner Classics 2564673671
    2011 Harmonia Mundi HMX 2927325
    2010 Seraphic Fire Media 07
    2010 BBC Music Magazine 326
    2010 Naxos 8570364
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 2642292
    2009 EMI Classical / EMI Classics 686082
    2009 EMI Classics / EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 5099996426
    2009 Regis Records 1044
    2009 Griffin 4066
    2009 Coro 16073
    2009 Signum UK 182
    2008 Mormon Tabernacle 5010241
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5150862
    2007 EMI Classics 5105682
    2007 EMI Classics VTDCD 897
    2007 Avie 2122
    2007 Universal Classics & Jazz
    2007 Coro 16054
    2007 EMI Classics 3873582
    2007 Deca Dance (UK) / Decadance UK Recordings Ltd 7500992
    2006 Signum UK 085
    2006 Varèse Sarabande 066769
    2006 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 0946375943
    2006 Nimbus REGCD 138
    2006 Scotdisc CDITV 736
    2006 EMI Music Distribution 7593523
    2005 Pro Organo 7194
    2005 Sanctuary CDRSN 3054
    2005 Pro Organo 7200
    2005 Naxos 8557965
    2005 Virgin / EMI Music Distribution VTDCD601
    2005 Gothic Records 49244
    2005 Harmonia Mundi HMX290 7411/4
    2005 Decca 000453102
    2005 Scotdisc CDITV 709
    2005 Angel Records 67014
    2005 Classics for Pleasure 5859152
    2005 EMI Classics 58088
    2004 Exultate 101
    2004 Naxos 8557557-58
    2004 EMI Music Distribution 62511
    2004 Signum Classics 050
    2004 Naxos 8558152-53
    2004 Mormon Tabernacle 0403
    2004 Universal Distribution 9868054
    2004 Virgin VTDCD 642
    2004 Catalyst / RCA Red Seal 64299
    2003 Coro 16004
    2003 Naxos 8556783
    2003 Coro 16015
    2003 Signum Classics / Signum UK SIGCD 502
    2003 Alba 19
    2003 Collegium Records CSCD 512
    2003 Decca 000151302
    2003 BMG 82876571402
    2003 RCA Victor 82876514382
    2003 Decca 4738622
    2003 Harmonia Mundi HMU807325
    2003 Harmonia Mundi HMU 907325
    2002 Priory Records 4000
    2002 MasterMusic 239
    2002 Erato 44657
    2001 London/Decca / Decca 289468503
    2001 Priory Records PRCD-768
    2001 RCA 63760
    2001 Gimell 5
    2000 Erato 4295882
    2000 Collegium Records 121
    2000 United Recordings 88088
    2000 Naxos 555256
    2000 Virgin 847225
    1999 EMI Music Distribution 73693
    1999 Virgin Classics / Virgin CDC-45352
    1999 Priory Records 651
    1999 York Ambisonic YORKCD 152
    1999 Dorian DOR93191
    1999 Herald Records HAVPCD 224
    1999 Priory Records 580
    1998 Philips / Philips / PolyGram 462050
    1998 EMI Music Distribution 72815
    1997 D'Note / D'Note Classics 1022
    1997 Erato 630146342
    1997 Collins Records 70452
    1996 Nimbus 5496
    1996 EMI Music Distribution 65903
    1996 RCA Victor Red Seal / RCA 68255
    1995 Conifer Classics / Conifer 75605517542
    1995 Sony Classical SK-66613
    1995 Albany Music Distribution 177
    1995 Gloriae Dei Cantores 20
    1994 Cala Records 88023
    1994 ASV/Living Era 912
    1993 Hyperion CDA66668
    1993 Herald Records HAVPCD 143
    1992 Collins Records 1270
    1991 Collins Classics / Collins Records 1335
    1991 Collins Classics 70112
    1991 Hyperion 66464
    Kairos 5428
    Classic CD 8
    Collins Records 14052
    EMI 67223
    Collins Records 16002