Saturday, January 5, 2008

Arvo Pärt - 1977 - Tabula Rasa

From Stylus:

They say music speaks to the soul. It speaks in a way that no other medium can. It assists all our emotions and in times of comfort and pain it transcends to something on par with spiritualism. There are many paths to God and the meditative music of Arvo Pärt is, without a doubt, one of them. I had listened to this recording years ago and always loved it, so much so that I constantly would find myself returning. It took on a whole new dimension, though, this past February when I was dealing with my mother's failing battle with terminal brain cancer.

Arvo Pärt is an Estonian composer. Sadly, in a day when all you hear are the same “war horse” compositions and composers played on “classical” radio, few folks are turned on to the cornucopia of sonic delights some of the lesser known 20th Century and modern day composers have bestowed upon us. These modern composers I am referring to fall into the “minimalism” sub-genre. The freedom to create very pure textures that confront the listener on an internal level. There remains the intellectual nature of classical music, but the means to the end become less restricted. Pärt is am ideal example of “internal” music.

1984, the essential record of Tabula Rasa was released on ECM records. The recording features not only the title composition performed by the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra featuring Gidon Kramer on Violin (for whom Pärt wrote the exquisitely contemplative and hypnotic title work) and Alfred Schnittke on prepared piano, but the equally beautiful composition "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten" and two versions of "Fratres"; a star performance from Keith Jarrett, and Gideon Kremer and its most sublime version for 12 cellos performed by the 12 Cellist of The Berlin Philharmonic.

The compositions are spare, but the space between the sounds are as full of music as the notes themselves. The title cut the allows an inner fullness to resonate through the most fragile, ethereal wisps of tone against the mysterious clanging of prepared piano. The lament of the tubular bells in "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten" is emotionally haunting and seems to descend from the heavens above. "Fratres" is a simple tune. On one hand it sounds like something from the 15th century, yet it clearly is something from the present day.

The Kronos Quartet and others have recorded the works of Arvo Pärt and each is interesting in it’s own right. What sets this recording apart, aside from the dynamic performances, is the warm production of by ECM's Manfred Eicher, which magnificently captures the mystical simplicity of Pärt's sound world.

Right before my mother passed on, she had requested music. Sending my mother music that would serve as the soundtrack to her transition to the other side was an emotional task. I gathered the familiar songs and songs that were favorites of her. I also included Tabula Rasa, a composition she had never heard and quite honestly I wasn’t sure if she would play it on her CD player. The last few weeks, her health declined rapidly, she lost all communicative skills. When word came of her passing, I picked up her belongings and in the CD was Tabula Rasa. She had heard it. She heard the sound of the heart of God. No man of the cloth could have prepared the transition better. Pärt’s music is of the sacred that transcends organized spirituality and enters directly into the soul.


1 Fratres (11:24)
2 Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten (5:00)
3 Fratres (11:49)
4 Tabula Rasa (26:26)