Arvo Part, PART: Tabula Rasa / Symphony No 3

John Schaefer

By John Schaefer

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Like Poland's Henryk Gorecki, Pärt began writing melodic, beautiful music at a time when that sort of thing simply wasn't done by "serious" composers. The Estonian composer settled in Germany in the '80s, where his mystical style — a blend of medieval and minimalist elements that he called "tintinnabuli" — caught the ear of Westerners just emerging from decades of wandering in the atonal, academic desert. Pärt's music, built around simple chords taken apart and played like the pealing and tolling of bells, became hugely successful. His choral works are very influential, and Tabula Rasa, though not a choral work, is a singing one, for two violins, string orchestra and prepared piano (see John Cage, above). Without text, he creates a work of obvious spiritual intent — but still gives the two fiddlers plenty to do in part one. Part two's hushed, luminous atmosphere slowly cycles through its melodic material as if counting the beads on a rosary.