Many an essay and a number of books have already been written about the life and music of the most performed living componist in the world, Arvo Pärt. Björk, Radiohead, … are among the many who claim to be influenced by the music of this beloved Estonian composer who developed his hallmarked tintintabuli style. The music of Pärt features in soundtracks, is played at Carnegie Hall and is often decribed as something out of a different order altogether, orbitting between heaven and earth.Listeners are drawn to the mystery that speaks and the spirituality that is evoked through the compositions where silence is as important as the minimal use of notes.
However what was missing from the vast oeuvre on work on Pärt was an understanding of his music and the spirituality from within the Orthodox Christianity that Pärt himself embraced and that shapes his approach to music. Acknowledging the various point of entries to approach the music of Pärt Peter C. Bouteneff wrote his Out of Silence as clear portrayal of the various ways the music of Pärt reaches for the listener’s heart and accounting for the tradition that shapes a peculiar thinking.
The illustrous story of Pärt’s new found music that was born after 7 years of silence is quite telling. CREDO was Pärts mesmerizing full on statement against the atheist suppresion in his homeland Estonia in the late sixties. Somehow the work escaped the scrunity of the state censors and was performed with acclaimed success. After that folowwed a silent period of seven years in which the composer dwelled in silence and it is out of that silence that a whole new genre within classical music was born.
Out of silence is Bouteneff’s three part study to clarify this journey of deeping spirituality and the drawing on the resources within the Orthodox tradition. It is quite a fascinating account of the musical and spiritual odyssee where themes of trancendence, understanding of time, space for silence and the creative power of words and text setting that that define the flow of music give a glimpse of a deeply internal process.
But silence not only breeds new sounds, it also embarks on a journey to purity and to hear “a single note played as beautifully” as possible (to quote one of Arvo Pärt’s comments at rehearsals with musicians) and leads to awe before the Creator who created out of nothing and spoke the world into being.
In the last part Bouteneff studies the bright sadness that marks Pärts music where lament for what is lost and the longing for resurrection, despair and joy coexist similar in the music, just like tension and resolution can be found in the spiritual masters that influenced Pärt’s own faith.
Out of silence is a rewarding and helpful read on how the music influenced by the faith and spirituality of a world accomplished composer can have such a widespread effect on a global audience.
Peter C. Bouteneff, Out of Silence, New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2015