Characteristics of the Compositional Process in Arvo Pärt’s Tintinnabuli Technique

Leopold Brauneiss

Many of Pärt’s compositions in tintinnabuli technique are based on structural ideas that manifest themselves in a characteristic specification of common rules, very often in connection with a given text. These rules are obligatory for a whole composition or a whole part of it so that no details can be altered. Thus, the first step of the compositional process is to find a proper set of rules guaranteeing satisfactory results in every moment. As the sketches for the Te Deum exemplarily reveal, this means that Pärt tries out different sets of rules and abandons them immediately if they are not suitable. Usually the initial rules are related to melodic movement, and rhythm is organised later separately and may be changed during the course of revision, as was the case with Missa syllabica.

Another peculiarity is that the compositional process does not end with the first performance but is a work in progress leading to many revisions, sometimes over years, in order to find the perfectly sounding formulation of the basic structural ideas. One may discern three different categories. Firstly, voices can be added or removed (sixth Magnificat-Antiphon, Berliner Messe); secondly, sections can be added (end of Passio) or cut out to make a work shorter (Lamentate, end of Symphony No. 4); thirdly, some details can be modified, for instance pitches of a scale may be systematically altered.

The tintinnabuli technique shares with other system-oriented compositional methods the problem of finding a perfect correlation between fundamental rules and the details of the sounding surface, and it does this in a unique way, namely by simplifying both.

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