ALL ABOUT JAZZ Shows its Good Taste: “Arvo Pärt: Tabula Rasa”


Nenad Georgievski

“A question that has always been asked, regardless of genre, is whether music can be conservative and revolutionary at the same time. Various composers have surfaced in recent times with brilliant compositions, but their work has not adhered to any of the schools of composition that make up the 20th century classical music. These composers have often drawn inspiration from musical principles and philosophies that are foreign to the classical heritage, and in general have been less concerned with academic approval and theoretical correctness than with communicating directly with the listeners.

One of those composers is Arvo Pärt, whose spiritually resonant music has evolved from a deep Christianity (as well as the music of Steve Reich, Satie, Ligeti, John Cage and Russian neo-classicism, among many), and whose work is one of the defining soundworlds of the last 30 years. Journalist Tom Casetta wrote that there are many paths to God and the music of Arvo Pärt is, without a doubt, one of them. His music demands an intuitive mode of perception which includes the experience of silence, something that is ever present in the tradition of the Orthodox Church.

Arvo Pärt

Pärt first came to broad public attention in 1984, even though for years prior to that he was a prolific composer of film music in his native former Soviet Union. When in 1984 Manfred Eicher decided to start a new branch to his ECM label for composers (The New Series), it was a result of hearing the music of Pärt on the car radio during a late night drive. It struck him so powerfully that he had to stop the car to listen. ‘ What moved me in his music,’ wrote Eicher, ‘ was clarity—the direct path to ear and mind, a drama of quiet passion. The music was cathartic, a music of slowly beating wings. A drawing-inward of all feeling, as if the music were burying itself in a crypt of its own making: pitiless and solitary. A music of innermost calm demanding concentration from the musicians as well as from the listeners. These compositions didn’t make the vulnerable soul turn inward; they created a dialectic of action and stillness.’ ”

From Stephen Hill, producer of Music From the Hearts of Space on Arvo Pärt:

Stephen Hill


As we reach the waning days of another year, many people try and take the time to reflect on our increasingly complex lives. It’s at these times the music of the contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt takes on a special importance, due to its simplicity and innocent spirituality.

Pärt writes music rich with silence against the general turmoil and hubbub of the world. His constant desire is to express the mysterious, the numinous, and the unknowable. “Time and timelessness are connected,” he says. “This instant and eternity are struggling within us. And this is the cause of all our obstinacy, our narrow mindedness, our faith, and our grief.”

On this edition of Hearts of Space a program dedicated entirely to the music of Arvo Pärt, called CONSTANT STILLNESS.

Many writers have tried to fathom the meaning and the method of Arvo Pärt’s music, but none better than Pärt himself. Of his minimalist style he says, ‘ The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity. I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comfort me. So I work with very few elements, with one voice, with two voices. I build with the most primitive of materials.’

Of his TE DEUM, he says, ‘ I wished only to convey a mood. A mood that could be infinite in time, but by delicately removing one piece, one particle of time, out of the flow of infinity. I have to draw this music gently out of silence, and emptiness.’

We begin with the Kronos Quartet’s performance of FRATRES, from the album WINTER WAS HARD, and continue with a selection of music by Arvo Pärt from his growing catalog of recordings on the ECM New Series. From Part’s 1993 recording TE DEUM, SILOUANS SONG for chamber orchestra. From TABULA RASA, the CANTUS IN MEMORY OF BENJAMIN BRITTEN. From ARBOS, the DE PROFUNDIS for four solo voices, organ and percussion. From TE DEUM, the MAGNIFICAT for a cappella choir, and the SANCTUS for chorus and orchestra. From TABULA RASA, the title piece for two violins, prepared piano and string orchestra. And finally, from ARBOS, the PARI INTERVALLO for organ.

CONSTANT STILLNESS: the music of Arvo Pärt, on this hour of Hearts of Space.”