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Arvo  Pärt
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Arvo Pärt (1935-     )


Spiegel im Spiegel

(for cello and piano)
Composed in 1978, when Pärt was around 43 years old
4 minutes (approximately)
2 recordings, 2 videos
9:03
Dietmar Schwalke, Alexander Malter
4:04
Unknown ensemble

Arvo Pärt

Spiegel Im Spiegel (Mirror in the Mirror), 1978

Estonia is an independent Baltic state in North-Eastern Europe by Latvia, Lithuanian and Russia, due South of Finland on the sea. For five decades in the latter half of the 20th century, Estonia was part of the Soviet Union. Born there in 1935, Arvo Pärt is a currently living Estonian composer. His spare, haunting music has entranced listeners for decades, his special minimalism as fresh and as exotic as the country of his birth. A composer of much religious choral music, his instrumental works evoke a gentle and sincere spirituality though their shear beauty of tone, space and simplicity. While representing and helping to define a genre of contemporary classical music, Pärt’s music is likewise old, inspired by ancient models and evoking a timeless mood.

The last few centuries of Western classical art music have traced a broad arc of elaboration and growing complexity, from the late Romantics to the modern Serialists to a point in the mid-50’s where academic approaches blurred the lines between music, mathematics, semiotics and additional intellectual overlays. Inspired by the teachings of John Cage and a new infusion of world music, composers in the early 60’s reacted to this complexity with a paradigm shift towards simplicity and a new brand of music generally termed minimalism. A number of composers have obtained a strong new hold on the listening public becoming well-known: Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Michael Nyman, Terry Riley, and John Adams, to name the most prominent. The minimalist “technique” is a varied as its composers exploring a surprisingly wide range of diversity within its simplicity. An example is a particular school of minimal religious music, whether intended for worship, or simply to evoke spiritual, meditative states of listening. Often called “holy minimalism”, the style includes composers such as John Tanverner, Henryk Górecki and Arvo Pärt.

Pärt formally studied music and composed in a variety of styles such as neo-classicism and serialism but reached a creative impasse. He turned to monophonic chant and simple two-part counterpoint, the historical and fundamental origins of classical music. Pärt refined a new style and technique he calls tintinnabuli referring to the bell-like tones of the notes in a simple triad, a basic 3-note chord. The music often comprises a slow melody moving in small steps accompanied by tintinnabuli with any instrument capable of sounding chords, usually one note at a time in an arpeggio.

Written in 1978 just before he left Estonia, Spiegel im Spiegel is a crystal clear example of Pärt’s style and perhaps his most famous composition. The violin slowly chants the melody while the piano decorates and supports the vocal line with a slightly faster chain of single notes, each one a sparkling tone in a three-note chord creating harmony, one note at a time. It is like a Bach prelude in slow motion. The piano part features one more dimension: a regularly spaced fourth note that alternates as the highest or lowest pitch, anchors of a broader sonic space. The music is sweet, calm, clear, and powerfully moving, as if touched by grace.