Happy birthday, Arvo Pärt

September 11, 2010

Today is the 75th birthday of Arvo Pärt, my favourite living composer.  I fell in love with his music about ten years ago when I heard Kanon Pokajanen, his setting of the Orthodox Church’s Canon of Repentance, and I have since sought out pretty much all of his pieces that have found their way to recordings.  On this, his birthday, I’d like to share a couple of my favourites.

Pärt’s music falls into two chronologically sequential parts: the before part, when he composed in an aggressive modernist idiom, and the after part, when he composed in a remarkably simple and pure style he calls ‘tintinnabulation’.  It is the latter part that is most beloved by me.  Here is Es sang vor langen Jahren (text and translation), an early piece in his second period that nicely illustrates how he makes something beautiful from the slenderest materials.  The imagery in this video is from Tarkovski:

Pärt has composed quite a lot of choral music in English, and for this we can be grateful.  Among my favourite pieces is I Am The True Vine, a setting of John 15:1-14.  He does something lovely with the voices, having them intertwine very much like the branches of a vine:

Finally (and I am cutting this cruelly short), here is an excerpt from that piece that first caught my attention: Ode IV from Kanon Pokajanen (text and translation):

Happy birthday, Mr. Pärt.

4 Responses to “Happy birthday, Arvo Pärt”

  1. Reg Says:

    Hi Craig,

    With my wife and two teenagers, I recently enjoyed the episode of Sacred Music featuring Arvo Pärt. I was on iTunes Store looking for a recording to buy and became bewildered at all the choices. After searching around on the internet for a while I asked myself if you had ever posted about Pärt. I was delightfully astonished when the top hit was your posting today wishing him a Happy Birthday! Can you recommend an album or two?

  2. cburrell Says:

    Bless you, Reg. I feel a new post coming on, if you can wait a few days.

  3. Mac Says:

    I love the Kanon. Unlike you, though, I didn’t take to it immediately. My first thought was “this is boring,” in spite of the fact that I like his music in general. But it really began to open up as I listened to it more. (I’m catching up with your blog after a busy week.)

  4. cburrell Says:

    I have another friend who had a similar experience with the Kanon. He heard it first live, and found it dull and repetitive. It is repetitive, I’ll grant that. Only later, on hearing it at home, did he warm up to it.

    It is for such reasons that I do not recommend it to Part neophytes.


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