Discovering Arvo Part

Those of you that know my music collection know that it’s rather eclectic. I’ve gone through many music phases in my life – each reflected in some part of my library.

Lately my exploration has wandered into more contemplative works, with particular emphasis on choral pieces. I’ve been doing a lot of searching for particular pieces that are evokative of peace and stillness, I think somewhat in response to the frenetic pace that life seems to have taken on of late.

A few weeks ago I was trying to recall a piece I heard when I was watching Fahrenheit 9/11. After a bit of research (thanks Wikipedia), I figured out that it was entitled “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten” by a minimalist Estonian composer named Arvo Part. I remember the piece being stark and striking, appropriate for the imagery it was associated with.

I decided to dive a bit deeper into Part’s work, and have been touched by what I’ve found there. Beyond his Cantus, there are a number of choral works that he’s done which are both remarkable and heavily spiritual. One piece, De Profundis, has moved onto my list of favorite works in the “solemn and contemplative” category – accompanied, for example, by Barber’s Adagio for Strings (interestingly enough, another piece I first noticed during a movie – this time, Platoon.) The De Profundis is a directly religious work (De Profundis are the first two words of Psalm 130):

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord;

O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?

But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are feared.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.

My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,

O Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.

He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.

Part’s Magnificat is also worthy of mention, another piece for chorus and organ. I remember reading a review somewhere that someone wrote, saying “This is the music I want playing at my funeral,” and I think that if/when I actually spend time making my list, Part will definitely be on it. I actually wish I’d had these pieces on my iPod when I had the chance to visit Jerusalem last year.

sanctuary.jpgIf you are interested in spending a bit of time with this unique composer, I’d recommend you listen to the album “Sanctuary” which consists of some of his more memorable pieces, including each of the ones I mentioned in this post, as well excerpts from his better known works such as Fratres and Tabula Rasa. He won’t be everyone’s favorite, but if you’re looking to experience something unique I’d recommend a listen.


~ by Nathan on January 7, 2006.

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