Case Studies in Pärt’s Textual Settings: Silent and Sounded

Peter Bouteneff

At least seven of Arvo Pärt’s compositions are text settings where the text is in fact unheard: Psalom (1985), Silouan’s Song (1991), Trisagion (1992), Orient & Occident (2000), Lamentate (2002), Für Lennart in memoriam (2006), Symphony No. 4 “Los Angeles” (2008). The kinds of syllabic rules that apply in the sung compositions all apply likewise in the unsung ones. We have reflected before on Pärt’s compositions and the role played by the words and their meaning. But if the composition’s construction—in strict obedience to the text—indeed carries the intention of the words’ proclamation and understanding, does the silence of the text run counter to the composition’s raison d’être? This question prompts a further inquiry into the relationship between composer and text, text and music, music and listener. Even as such an inquiry begins on technical and musicological planes, it must inevitably proceed towards impressionistic reflections. While these can only be propositional, they may yet yield useful insight into the compositions as well as into the composer and his task.

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