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The Ravishing Transcendent Music of Arvo Pärt

It was one of those late night CBC Radio experiences. I was lying in bed slowly dozing off into a dream world when this truly dream-like music started to play on the radio. The music was beautiful, ravishing, mysterious and strangely ancient. It was the music of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. His music is a little paradoxical to me – old yet new, beautiful yet slightly mysterious and strange, and spacious yet intimate. If I was asked to name a living composer who I regard with absolute adoration, it would be Arvo Pärt.

Pärt has been through an interesting journey as a composer. He was born in 1935. His early works are serial compositions (intellectually challenging to listen to) and he continued exploring serialism through to the mid 60s. Then, tiring of the rigours of serialism he moved on to experiment with a kind of sound collage technique. Official Soviet judgment of his work varied between praise and outright banning of his music. 1968 marks the last of his collage pieces (Credo listen on YouTube) and the beginning of his first period of contemplative silence. During this time he reached back in time and studied French and Franco-Flemish choral music from the 14th to 16th centuries: Machaut, Ockeghem, Obrecht, Josquin. He re-emerged in 1971 with a transitional composition – Symphony No. 3. Then he disappeared into silence until 1976.

What emerged in 1976 was a transformation so radical that all his previous compositions could not be recognised as being created by the same composer. The technique he had invented is called “tintinnabuli” and it is a technique he has remained true to since his first creation in this style – a little piano piece named Für Alina. It is deceptively simple, a duet between 2 voices plucked out gently on the piano.

You can watch Arvo Pärt discuss and perform Für Alina here.

Arvo Pärt on Fur Alina

Since then he has produced an outpouring of beautiful, mysterious and for me transcendent works. The Amicus Music Duo will be featuring some of Arvo Pärt’s music at our upcoming concert on October 21st, 2010. This concert, Beauty In the Beast, is an exploration into beauty. How do we decide if music is beautiful or not? Is beauty learned or innate? How appropriate that Arvo Pärt is included in the concert as an example of beauty being created in the world today.

Beauty In the Beast
Thursday, October 21, 2010
An inquiry about what makes music beautiful

Visit our Eventbrite page for tickets and details

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Csilla Moffat November 2, 2010, 9:13 am

    Thank you for bringing to my attention an amazing composer. I have a CD of his which is titled: Te Deum but also includes Silouans Song, Magnificat and Berliner Messe, recorded in Finland in 1993. I am now rediscovering these works, thanks to you Craig.

  • Craig November 5, 2010, 11:28 pm

    Hi Csilla. I have that recording as well and I have many others I can recommend if your interested.

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