Music arising out of, and returning into, the empty space
Arvo Pärt’s sense of the numinous imbues his music. It would be difficult to imagine a composer without a spiritual faith creating this – not just because clearly some of the tracks come out of a tradition of Christian choral music.
This is music which demands the listener settles into spacious, unyearning waiting. Many tracks arise out of a quite long period of no-sound, a prolonged pause, and this is part of the piece itself.
The opening track Cantus In Memoriam, Benjamin Britten, starts with a typical Part single bell, there is an opening, high transcendency, an ascending, and the journey of the piece then continues to slowly build textures and layers of strings, getting deeper and more sombre, more dense, more clay like, a body returning to the earth, to burial, the bell notes now sombre.
The second track teases with similarities at the opening to another piece which comes from a relationship to death, and to faith, Gorecki – Symphony No.3: Sorrowful Songs
The vocal pieces are sweet and grave, even ‘Magnificat’ is quiet in its fullness
Pärts approach to faith is personal, self-effacing. There’s little triumphalism, little ostentation, few grandly glorious moments of easy comforts. The music is curiously humble, surrendering, the use of strings drawn out endless sostenuto, slow repetitions of phrases, slow accretions of texture, unfoldings, returns, and again unfoldings and infoldings. This is faith that can embrace despair, deep grief, and doubt. I have experienced hearing Part’s music live, in concert. It is the experience of joint meditation practice, silent contemplation, guided and supported by music which is always connected to an eternal, dynamic stillness.
The only track which hints that this quiet place, though always present, is also readily lost, is the final piece, the aptly named Tabula Rasa for 2 violins, ‘prepared piano’ and chamber orchestra. The violins arise out of that still place, and again and again are briefly interrupted by a repeating rush of short piano interjections; these go nowhere, and fall back down into the stillness of sustained and twining strings. A very beautiful mirroring of a meditation practice, where out of silence, the mind emerges into chatter, and can be allowed to sink again into the dynamic no-thing, from whence again thoughts will arise, scurry and be allowed to dissolve.
Unfortunately I can’t find this particular CD on a link to mp3 listening, it is a collection of his pieces, with different choirs and orchestras, taken from other CDs where one choir and one orchestra performs different selections of his work