We had 7 of his vocal compositions:
1. Morning Star (2007)
2. Most Holy Mother (2003)
3. The Deer's Cry (2007)
4. Solfeggio (1963)
5. Seven Magnificat Antiphons (1988): O Wisheit (O Wisdom), O Adonai, O Sproß aus
Isais Wurzel (O Root of the Tree of Jesse), O Shlüßel David (O Key of David), O
Morgenstern (O Morning Star) O König aller Völker (O King of All Nations), O Immanuel
6. Missa Syllabica (1977) Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei, Ite Missa
7. Kanon Pokkajanen (selections) (1997): Kontakion & Ikos, Ode IX: Heirmos, Theotokion, Prayer
The number of works may look huge but they are all short pieces, seldom lasting more than two or three minutes each. So it was not a very long concert by the performers, the famous Theatre of Voices founded by Paul Hillier in 1990, popularly known as the Hilliard Ensemble, which has recorded numerous CDs, through which I first learn of their existence years ago.
Arvo Pärt's Morning Star
This is a piece commissioned by Durham U to celebrate its 175th anniversary. Pärt chose a text found inside Durham Cathedral: "Christ is the morning star, who when the night of this world is past brings to his saints the promise of the light of life and opens everlasting day." He repeats the same sentence "Christ is the morning star" beginning in different notes by the male and female singing separately and then continues with the rest of the words of the text by the singers singing together.
Pärt's Most Holy Mother of God
In 2003, Pärt wrote and dedicated this piece for four voices to the Hilliard Ensemble, a piece which repeats a single 7-word phrase to be sung alone, one after the other or together by 4 singers.
Pärt's The Deer's Cry
This is a piece for the SATB choir of the "St. Patrick's Breastplate" (St. Patrick being the patron saint of Ireland). Each of the sentences in this hymn begins with the word "Christ" and starts with the lower notes which climb higher and higher and then break out into polyphony, reaching a climax and then it subsides again into silence.
This is a piece Pärt wrote whilst experimenting with serial music in 1963, beginning with ascending notes on the tonal scale. He names it "Solfeggio" because he thought of it as a study for a capella choir focusing on two notes "sol" (G") and "fa" (F) although there are complex variations.
Pärt's Magnificat Antiphon
For those who are not Catholics, Antiphon is originally the singing response of the congregation to the lead in a hymn by the official choir or the priest celebrating the mass.This Antiphon is the response to the Magnificat (or the Song celebrating the day the Blessed Virgin Mary was reported to have received news from an angel that she would be the mother of the Savior) in the 7 days of Holy Week of the Advent just before Christmas Day. Each piece of this composition evokes a different mood. Some of them are sung by all the members of the ensemble together whilst other parts are sung by only the female or the male singers and some by first the male and then the female.
Pärt's Missa Syllabica
This is a piece written in 1977 and is an example of what Pärt calls "tintinabuli" (little bell) method of composition in which each word of the different parts of the mass: (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei, Ite Missa est ) is given a new pitch. Here he uses silence to emphasize the tonal quality of the individual notes. For those who have studied in Catholic schools and attended Latin masses, the Latin words evokes a string of memories and may have special personal meanings opaque to others.
Kanon Pokkajanen: Kontakion & Ikos
The text of this song is Slavonic, the language of the Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe. According to the Programme Notes, Pärt says that the composition is so much an expression of the words that "the entire structure of the musical compostion is subject to the text and its laws". The entire work consists of 9 odes lasting some 90 minutes and it takes him 2 years to complete them and 3 other sections.
Kanon Pokkajanen (Canon of Repentance): Ode IX
Kanon Pokkajanen (Canon of Repentance): Prayer after the Canon
Listening to the Hilliard Ensemble makes one think. Does music always have to be that complex and that "rich", with tens of musical instruments with complicated musical structures by different sections of the orchestra or choir, playing together, with elaborate harmonies and dissonances before it can be moving? If Pärt does not succeed in making his music liked by all and sundry, he at least succeeds in making us reflect on what exactly it is that evokes emotions in the human heart. If one may judge from Pärt's works, 'simplicity' and "purity' of tones certainly seem not a totally non-feasible option. Thanks to the ensemble the singing of whose members is uniformly good (except that for some numbers, the voice of one of the sopranos seems a tad too loud), I had the opportunity of hearing Pärt's work live. It is not an experience that I will easily forget.