Cyclical Structure and Dramatic Technique in Litany

Chris May

 Arvo Pärt’s Litany (1994/1996) is a continuous musical setting of 24 “prayers of St. John Chrysostom for each hour of the day and night”. It is the first tintinnabuli work scored for full orchestra and Pärt’s first major setting of an English text. It is also more than 25 years old. Despite this, relatively little detailed scholarship exists on this work.

This paper examines Pärt’s vocal settings in Litany, mapping all of the main rules and processes. Given the work’s textual themes, I place particular emphasis on the presence of cyclical structures. Against this framework, I then identify, and try to account for, important passages in the work during which Pärt deviates from his own rules and processes. Collectively, these analyses form the basis of an understanding of Litany as a dramatisation of text to which both compositional rules and rule-breaking are critical.