Music of the Day: Pärt’s Lamentate

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Arvo Pärt’s work. He blends classical and modern styles in such a way that they are transformed into something distinctly unique. His merits are strong enough to be recognized even by a musical layperson such as myself.

The biggest weakness of modern composers, in my opinion, is the complete dissociation that they draw from tradition. While they can have practical reasons to do what they do, it is often more of an exercise in flamboyant display of talent. When someone does not have that talent, it falls flat. The composers of old are equally vulnerable to such hubris, but have the advantage of centuries between us and them: their worst works are forgotten or rarely performed, and their best are treasured.

Pärt, however, seems to be a composer without hubris. This is not to say that he is universally successful in creating music worth listening to, but I would be hard pressed to condemn any part of his work as trite or meaningless.

Recently I have been listening, by happy accident, to his Lamentate. I had snuck parts of it into a classical playlist that I sometimes listen to, but I had not really listened to the whole work in one consecutive go, as it is meant to be.

His trademark tintinnabuli style is on display in the Lamentate, but unlike many of the minimalist composers he draws heavily from classic methods and his works remain recognizable as successors to that tradition. I compare him in this sense to Glass, whose work I have mixed affection toward. Glass’s “Metamorphosis” is a terrific composition, for instance, but he has also created works that are not what I would describe as classical: they stray too far in form and substance to be considered part of an earlier tradition (Koyaanisqatsi, which I like in part, is an example of this straying too far to be within the same category).

The Lamentate lives up to its name; Pärt describes it as “… a lamento – not for the dead, but for the living.”

Its mood is dark: at places oppressive, in others fragile. It moves at its own pace. It inspires–not to joy, but to mourning and reflection. Despite this, it is not lost within itself; the feeling that results is catharsis, not dread or depression. It moves with purpose, then with dissonance, the staggering of one overwhelmed with the world, but who will not be lost.

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