Program Notes

ARVO PÄRT (b. 1935)



The Estonian composer Arvo Pärt developed an early love/hate relationship with the Soviet authorities, some of his music praised, some vilified and banned. In 1968, at the age of 33, when yet another of his works was deemed “unacceptable,” he chose to enter a period of voluntary silence, using the time to begin a study of Medieval choral music and eventually re-emerged having undergone an artistic transformation so extreme as to make his previous work almost unrecognizable.  Central to his new creative output was the development of a technique he called "tintinnabuli" (Latin for "little bells”). Pärt wrote:

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, comforts me. I work with very few elements - with one voice, two voices. I build with primitive materials - with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells and that is why I call it tintinnabulation.

Or in English: the guiding principle behind tintinnabulation is the fusion of two vocal lines to make one, with one voice moving in step from a central pitch and the other sounding the separate notes of a three note chord.

Tintinnabuli is the mathematically exact connection from one line to another….the rule where the melody and the accompaniment is one. One plus one, it is one - it is not two.

For once what a composer says really makes sense when you hear his music. Pärt has remained true to his principles and, despite being written 20 years apart, “Psalom” and “Da Pacem Domine” sound to my ears as if they could have been composed within months of one another.

 Program notes by David Yang