Tintinnabuli comes to fruition in Mr. Pärt’s masterful choral works, including the 1997 “Kanon Pokajanen.” But it is music that also presents a conundrum for the secular listener, one who might seek out the spirituality of classical music at large rather than that of the Orthodox church.
These works are rhetorically charged, their most effective musical moments matched to the message of their sacred creeds. Mr. Pärt once wrote of the “Kanon Pokajanen”: “I tried to use language as a point of departure. I wanted the word to be able to find its own sound, to draw its own melodic line. Somewhat to my surprise, the resulting music is entirely immersed in the particular character of Church Slavonic, a language used exclusively in ecclesiastical texts.” The exactitude with which Mr. Pärt sets the text is consistent with Orthodox theology, which stresses the reciprocity between beauty and truth.
Historical distance has tempered the explicit Lutheran message of Bach’s cantatas or the Roman Catholicism of Palestrina’s Masses. Disregarding the scriptural details of Mr. Pärt’s music, though, might mean ignoring an aspect integral to a living composer, even if he is vague about it.
The perspective also follows a trajectory of thinking about Mr. Pärt that dates back to the 1984 album “Tabula Rasa,” which started his collaboration with the ECM label and its producer Manfred Eicher. The elegantly wrought abstract spirituality of those records has helped position Mr. Pärt as a composer for all faiths. The global classical music market has mediated — or perhaps tamed — his religion, opening up the iconography of the Orthodox church to a broader mysticism.
It is that tension that the Arvo Pärt Project will explore. “Some of the classic things that are observed about Pärt, and even expressed by him, are these utterly universal human realities, like the interplay between suffering and consolation,” Dr. Bouteneff said. “That’s the whole logic of tintinnabuli as well, that you have the melody voice, which is the human straying, and the triad voice, which represents the divine stability and consolation.”