Arvo Pärt—Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten
Arvo Pärt, Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten for Strings and One Bell
The first of this blog's second hundred days begins with a discovery—Arvo Pärt's Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten for Strings and One Bell. Pärt was born 11 September 1935, in Estonia. He survived the Nazi occupation, then the Soviet occupation of his country, where his music was found unacceptable by communist censors. Still, he managed to create a unique style of composition—tintinnabulation, which combines elements of Gregorian chant, minimalism, and deep spirituality. The results sound both ancient and modern. Pärt's music is, to me, deeply moving.
I first encountered Arvo Pärt's music in those exiting days after the fall of communism—when music and art of all kinds poured out from the Soviet Union into the West and the world (the same was happening, of course, in reverse). For some reason, I had imagined that art passed back and forth between the two blocks, but it had not. In those days, I belonged to The Musical Heritage Society, and their wondrous catalogs featured post-Communist revelations. I read about Pärt's Tabula Rasa, took a chance, and ordered a CD. That work was mesmerizing (and I will listen to it and write about it in a separate post).
Arvo Pärt is 81 years old, and still composing. NPR reports that for the last five years, Pärt has been the most-performed living composer in the world.
Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten for Strings and One Bell was written in 1977, following the death of the British composer Benjamin Britten, whose music Pärt admired for its simplicity. Because the Iron Curtain separated them, Pärt lamented that he was never able to meet the only living composer who, he believed, shared his musical sensibilities. The one bell in this composition, repeatedly tolling, is a deeply moving part of this deeply moving composition.
Here is fellow Estonian Neeme Järvi conducting the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten for Strings and One Bell; (from the album Modern Classics: Arvo Pärt):
The photograph, above, is of the Fruita Cliffs in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah (Credit: NPS/Nathan Gross; used courtesy of the National Park Service). This is the twelfth of twenty photos of National Parks that I will feature in this blog to honor the centenary of the National Park Service.