Editors’ notes. Foreword to the book “In principio”

HEDI ROSMA, KRISTINA KÕRVER, KAI KUTMAN | Editors’ notes to the book  “In principio. The Word in Arvo Pärt’s music”
Arvo Pärt Centre, 2014


“In the beginning was the Word …”

Upon starting our journey more than one year ago, we thought that we were very well aware of what awaited us ahead. For what could be simpler than going back to the beginning in the footsteps of the composer? Nevertheless, every step present­ed us with questions that were not easy to resolve. Our foot­holds tended to slip away, forcing us to rethink our approach again and again.

First of all – the selection of works. In the context of Arvo Pärt’s pieces, the phrase “piece with text” means something much more than simply words to be sung. The texts reveal (or also hide) themselves in his music in very different ways.

Text, of course, appears most customarily and openly in vocal works, which are indeed the most numerous in Pärt’s repertoire. However, the Word also carries an important and meaningful role in many of Pärt’s instrumental pieces, no matter if it is included in a more concealed form.

Foremost among these are the instrumental versions of pieces initially made for a vocal ensemble or a choir, such as Solfeggio, Summa, In spe / An den Wassern …, Da pacem Domine, Missa brevis, and Swansong. Following this is a great number of instrumental pieces, in composing which Pärt has taken the structure of a specific text as his basis, although the text itself never sounds in the work and the title usually does not refer­ence it, either: Psalom, Silouan’s Song, Trisagion, Orient & Occi­dent, Lamentate, Für Lennart in memoriam, “These Words …”, and Symphony No. 4. The composer has, in some cases, also allowed this type of base text to be brought out in the score; whether on the title page or directly accompanying the sheet music, bar by bar. In some pieces, however, the text’s relationship to the music or its existence overall has been left undisclosed to the listener. These are the very kinds of connections that may be delightfully surprising for the readers of this book.

Forming the last group, exceptional among Pärt’s works, are those instrumental or vocal pieces, in which the text and the title derived from it are connected to the music by the most fragile of threads. It sometimes resembles more of an epigraph or a dedication, and may also be added after the piece is composed, such as in the case of Pari intervallo and An den Wassern …. Occasionally, however, the accompanying text directly references the source of the piece’s inspiration. Thus, Modus (later titled Sarah Was Ninety Years Old) was inspired by the story of Sarah and Abraham in the Book of Genesis, Annum per annum by the liturgy of the mass, and Mein Weg / Mein Weg hat Gipfel … stems from a poem by Edmond Jabès.


Altogether 81 such “pieces with text” that span a period of 58 years and nine languages (the texts are in Estonian, Latin, English, German, Russian, Church Slavonic, Italian, Span­ish, and French) are collected in this book. Missing from the book are the composer’s retracted works, as well as music for films, cartoons, and plays, for example. All texts not in Eng­lish are accompanied by English-language translations at the end of the book.

We began with the score in the case of each individual piece. However, we often found several differences when comparing the score’s printed texts, the composer’s manuscripts, and the text’s original sources. As it was not always possible to resolve these in an identical manner, we treated each instance separate­ly. In this, we were aided by the Arvo Pärt Centre’s valuable ar­chive material that was at our disposal. We had the opportunity to go back – all the way to manuscripts and outlines.

At the same time, the texts printed in this book cannot be taken as one-to-one copies of Arvo Pärt’s manuscripts. The differences may at times be of outright substance. One good example of this is the punctuation marks in the Latin texts. In several cases (Passio, for example), the composer has writ­ten them into his music; i.e. derived the musical grammar of the entire piece from the structure of the text. In this book, however, we have not unconditionally adhered to such corre­spondence between the text and the music, and have followed the orthographic rules of Latin in the event of differences that surface in the score.
As Arvo Pärt has implemented texts from different sources when composing his works, the same words can be encountered in different orthographies; in the case of Latin, for example: cu­jus – cuius, juxta – iuxta, etc. (For the most part, only the letter “i” is used in the case of Classical Latin; in Late- and Church Latin, the letter “j” is used before vowels, but this likewise may not be done consistently.) We have preserved each text’s original typesetting instead of harmonizing them, as they car­ry within themselves a tiny part of the text’s origins. Overall, we strove to refrain from judgments like “right” and “wrong” when compiling the book. Behind every text is its own story.

It is for the same reason that we have preserved the Church Slavonic typesetting in places, where the text demands it. In the case of English-language biblical texts, Arvo Pärt has greatly used the King James Version (only the text of Peace Upon You, Jerusalem and Anthem of St John the Baptist are tak­en accordingly from the New Jerusalem Bible and from the New Revised Standard Version). Due to this and the slightly more archaic English, we decided to also use the King James Version as our basis with English-language translations.
In the event of texts that have more than one translation, the English-language text has been chosen according to how well, in our opinion, it conveys the original and its spirit. Thus, the selection is undoubtedly subjective, and readers always retain the opportunity to acquaint themselves with other translations.


One phenomenon that derives from Arvo Pärt’s composi­tion technique is characteristic of his works as a whole: in this, a musical piece can exist in several versions with differ­ent instrumentations. The new versions were, for the most part, made in different years. This book does not provide an overview of how many versions, or in which instrumenta­tions the association between the same text and music ap­pears. We limit ourselves to naming the work in its original composition, as well as noting the year the original version was completed and information on the initial performance. Exceptions to this are instances, in which the composer put a new title on a new version: In spe – An den Wassern …; Sie­ben Magnificat-Antiphonen – O-Antiphonen; Littlemore Tractus – Swansong; as well as Missa brevis, the basis of which was two different works: Missa syllabica and Berliner Messe.

The pieces are organized chronologically, based on the year of their completion (first performances are used for ordering within a single year). At the same time, the dates that the composer arrived at one text or another in his work, that he began working with the text, that he made his first outlines, etc. remain somewhat obscure. Rather, the year that a piece was completed references the time at which the composer had reached a point ripe for commenting musically on a certain text, and for sharing the music written for it with the world. The most remarkable example in this case is Adam’s Lament: Pärt first turned towards the writings of St Silouan (which are used as the basis for the composition) already in the early 1990s, sketching the piece’s extensive formal layout and his initial musical ideas. However, these were shelved for many years after that, and the piece was finished only in 2010.

So-called “double titles” are occasionally used: this espe­cially concerns the pre-1980 period, i.e. works written before Pärt left Estonia. In these cases, the title listed is the original, and its English equivalent can be found after a slash in the English translations as well as in the index of titles. The sole exception is the piece Ein Wallfahrtslied / Pilgrims’ Song which has its official title in two languages.

Without exception, the manuscript material used in design­ing this volume – including the selection of illustrations placed in the middle section of the book – originate from the compos­er’s archive. Alongside pages of outlines and manuscript frag­ments are also excerpts from Arvo Pärt’s musical diaries: from notebooks of sheet music, in which from 1974 through today, Pärt has recorded not only musical ideas (from the first outlines of the piece through the working manuscript), but also written next to and between them all kinds of textual commentaries, quotes from books that he was reading, prayers, as well as inti­mate philosophical musings on life, art, and music.

We would like to hope that in this form, the given col­lection of texts will offer for the first time a different kind of view into the world of Arvo Pärt’s thoughts and music. One further aspect which the reader might consider while holding this book is the other, hidden side of the title: “… and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”


Hedi Rosma
Kristina Kõrver
Kai Kutman

Translated by Adam Cullen