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Bleak, deep and curiously comforting

lamentateI’ve been devotedly in thrall to the pared down, often stripped to the bone, music of Arvo Part, for some years. Part, arguably Estonia’s best known citizen, created his particular style of minimalism, ‘tintinnabuli’, based on the close harmonic overtones heard in the ‘tintinnabulation’ when a bell is struck. Part’s stunning music is not just empty stylistics, however, but always arises from his own deep connection to the numinous, to deep reflection, to his faith.

Nearly 80 now, he continues to sear the listener with the potency and deep reflection in his work. His music is always something best listened to with full, awake, attention. And the silence and space between notes is as much part of the soundscape as the heard music.


Hilliard, Da Pacem Domine

This particular CD consists of 2 works, a short a capella choral piece, Da Pacem Domine, beautifully floated by The Hilliard Ensemble, and a long orchestral piece Lamentate.

Lamentate was inspired when Part saw Anish Kapoor’s Marsyas in The Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, and had a kind of cataclysmic, cathartic experience from how he was affected by it. ‘Lamentate’ is not a lament, as is often the case in sacred ‘Lamentations’ for the dead, it is a lamentation for the living – for the fact that we are all in relationship to the knowledge of our own, individual mortality. Whether we consciously seek to live with awareness of that, or whether we live in denial, it shapes us.

As Part’s notes on this piece reflect :

I have written a lamento – not for the dead, but for the living, who have to deal with these issues for themselves. A lamento for us, struggling with the pain and hopelessness of the world.


Here is the whole of Lamentate, in a version with Diana Liiv, piano. Lexington Symphony, conductor Jonathan McPhee. Sound quality not wonderful though

From the crushing, weighty opening two movements, where it almost feels as if an implacable indifferent force will roll over the listeners, annihilating them, in the third movement small, fragile, simple, beautiful and hesitant pause filled lines of melody arise, carried by the solo piano. Later, these lines, are taken up, turn by turn, by other instruments. It’s almost like an offer and an acceptance of tenderness, some comfort from another. Again and again, there are musical lines which arise, phrases which never quite complete and resolve – the ending is inevitable, but the answer can only be a kind of accommodation, a trying, a beauty created from a greater embodiment, so the ‘being here’ is more and more fully realised.

These crushings, these solo questings, these arisings of musical line from the solo piano which are then taken up, questioned again by other instruments, are like some kind of manifestation of grace – the comfort of human consolation and connection in the face of the inevitability of death

Part’s own history and background in devotional music is within the Eastern Orthodox Church, but there are even threads of musical influences from Arabic music in one of the movements, Lamentabile.

The whole movement of the piece, with the return, again and again to the knowledge of our mortality which shapes our living, is towards a deepening richness that comes from ‘living with knowledge’

And, though not in any way (obviously!) a great fanfare of a triumphal piece, it is a piece which is astonishingly beautiful, moving…and though I surrendered to it quite viscerally, getting flattened by the implacable opening, slowly having little green shoots of growth, moving towards the light of day, connecting, and then being flattened, the whole was about ‘responding in the here and now’arvopart

As I reflected (as the piece makes the listener do so) I was reminded of the work of existentialist humanist psychotherapist Irving Yalom, and his books, specifically, Love’s Executioner and Staring At The Sun. This music takes the same journey, and encourages ‘Living Awake’

The performance in my CD version, (not the You Tube version here) is from the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, with Alexei Lubimov, piano, and conducted by Andrey Boreyko. And it is all magnificent.

Arvo Part Lamentate Amazon UK
Arvo Part Lamentate Amazon USA

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