04.12.2009

Happy Easter! He is risen–He is risen indeed!

My lovely wife and I were visiting a friend last weekend, and he introduced me to a piece that he’d been taken with recently. It was a modern “deconstruction” or reimagining of a Bach piece that was very well done. It just so happened that I had brought a CD for him to borrow, and it also contained a modern deconstruction of another Bach piece, so I played it for him and he enjoyed it quite a bit. And, of course, I thought it would make a great two-parter on TLB. So here’s part one of two….

The piece our friend played for us was a piece for choir, orchestra and solo piano entitled Credo, by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (born 1935). Pärt is best known for a composition style known as “holy minimalism” or “sacred minimalism,” which employs tonal chord structures with frequent repetition and an overall static (rather than dynamic and progressing) feeling. His particular brand of the style is designated as “tintinnabuli” (from the Latin tinnabulae, of bells) and is meant to sound like pealing, harmonius bells. Pärt has said that “Tintinnabuli is the mathematically exact connection from one line to another… tintinnabuli is the rule where the melody and the accompaniment is one”–in other words, the melody and accompanying voices move in block chords rather than having different rhythms. Most of Pärt’s famous works, including his Berliner Messe and Fratres (my personal favorite of his works), are written in this style, which he adopted in the 1970s.

However (after that long aside), Credo was written before that period, in 1968, and shows marks of his earlier preference for neo-classical and twelve-tone (or serial) styles. It is based on Bach’s first prelude from The Well-Tempered Clavier, a very simple piece in C major that repeats the same arpeggiated pattern while changing chords in each measure. (You can see a performance of that piece here; if you listen to the Pärt piece, I recommend listening to the Bach piece first.) Credo takes the piece and its chord progression, and then applies neo-classical, twelve-tone and collage techniques and makes it another piece entirely.

Credo begins with the choir singing and the orchestra playing long held notes–the same chords as the Bach prelude, but with no arpeggiation (in other words, instead of the chords being played as a series of individual notes, all the notes of the chord are sung at the same time). The first several measures are exactly the same progression and voicings of the Bach piece; but it gradually begins to stray from the original piece, getting farther and farther from the source material, and experiences a harrowing journey through a frenzied middle section that is loud, wild and twelve-tone (sounding much like something from Schoenberg or Prokofiev). It is a struggle, and a violent one at that, almost as if Pärt is wrestling with his own beliefs (“credo” is Latin for “I believe”), but also seems to symbolize the struggles between tonality and serialism, order and disorder. The piece almost seems to fall apart and disintegrate. But eventually the solo piano returns, playing the original prelude up several octaves, high above the fray; the dissonant orchestra attempts to drown it out, but tonality begins to triumph, and the choir returns softly but gains strength, and after a hymn-like return to the original prelude by the choir, orchestra and piano, the piano concludes the piece playing each C on the keyboard, from the lowest to the highest.

The piece was rather exhilarating, and is a brilliant “update” of sorts of the original Bach work. Pärt reinterprets Bach and turns his simple prelude into a huge piece that represents the struggles of both twentieth-century music and the human spirit. Definitely recommended!

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a free online recording of the piece to listen to; but it would be worth checking out on CD. If you’d like a more in-depth analysis of the piece, I found an excellent article you might want to check out as well, that gives a more detailed play-by-play of the piece and places it in the larger context of Pärt’s career; you can find it here.

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  1. Gravatar

    Marcos Juarez on 01.15.2013

    You can listen Avo Part Credo in You Tube:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAZ5T4sDrRQ

    Kind Regards

    Marcos Juarez
    Buenos Aires
    Argentina

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