Arvo Pärt: Art and Blank Slates

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13 Feb 2011, 13:59

This morning, hearing the extraordinary title track from Tabula Rasa made me want to revisit the CD's accompanying liner notes (written by Wolfgang Sander), which I hadn't looked at in a very long time. Here's part of what I found--a quote from Arvo Pärt himself:

"In the Soviet Union once, I spoke with a monk and asked him how, as a composer, one can improve oneself. He answered me by saying that he knew of no solution. I told him that I also wrote prayers, and set prayers and the texts of psalms to music, and that perhaps this would be of help to me as a composer. To this he said, 'No, you are wrong. All the prayers have already been written. You don't need to write any more. Everything has been prepared. Now you have to prepare yourself.' I believe there is a truth to that. We must count on the fact that our music will come to an end one day. Perhaps there will come a moment, even for the greatest artist, when he will no longer want to or have to make art. And perhaps at that very moment we will value his creation even more--because in this instant he will have transcended his work."

The temptation is strong to read this passage within the context of Tabula Rasa (the album as well as the piece itself) and meditate on that phrase's meaning and think, "This is Pärt's signal that he is prepared; he is ready not to produce or respond, but to receive." Sander himself certainly says as much in his commentary on the piece itself, and to which I can add nothing:

What kind of music is this? Whoever wrote it must have left himself behind at one point to dig the piano notes out of the earth and gather the artificial harmonics of the violins from heaven. The tonality of this music has no mechanical purpose. It is there to transport us toward something that has never been heard before.

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