In regards to the performance practice of the Berliner Messe, it is important to note the text, the key and pitch center, and the overall “mood” that Pärt is conveying in the harmony. Although the quarter note is set at a constant throughout the piece, and there are no markings in regards to the tempi or feel, historical knowledge of early Church music relates to how a modern chorus would perform such a work as the Berliner Messe.
Hesychasm, Greek for “stillness” or “quiet”, is the “process of retiring inward by ceasing to register the senses, in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God.”20 Byzantine chant, often prescribed to in the Russian Orthodox Church (as the Orthodox Church can be traced back to the Byzantine rite as early as St. Paul and the Apostles), relates to a practice of “inner prayer”, where one would experience complete silence of the senses (figuratively), and focus entirely on silent prayer. Of course, as the most insightful music in prayer is often slow, and the most profound moments in prayer are often in silence, Pärt’s combination of carefully predicted silence and slow, moving music results in an amalgamation of the past and present; an exaltation of the human spirit that transcends above and beyond the material being, beyond functional harmony or musical genre, to serve one purpose: A closer relationship to God through music.
20 "Hesychasm." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 25 Nov. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hesychasm>.
Pärt, similar to other sacred composers of the 20th and 21st centuries, have returned to a traditionalist view of icon painting in music.21 In the Berliner Messe, as well as many other of his works, he has returned to a timeless voice that had been previously silent for hundreds of years.
Through his contemplative periods and study of early western music, he has not only materialized once again the eternal sounds of chant music, but also become part of them in a way that is more than just a manifestation of their harmonic, melodic and rhythmic values.
More specifically, in the Berliner Messe, Pärt distinctly planned the key-scheme and overall structure with the intention for it to be performed in a liturgical setting (while it is often performed as a concert work). His use of lyrical, stepwise melodies is reminiscent of those that existed in Gregorian chant, and while his sense of harmony, through his technique, is extremely modern, his consideration of the text is very traditional. He recreates the timbres of liturgical bells through his sparse interpretation of the church organ (or strings), and references religious icons through melodic gestures, such as the sign of the cross found in the Sanctus.
Pärt’s musical voice does not exist without his faith, nor can the astute listener appreciate the compositional prowess or disciplined skill that Pärt incorporates into his music without at least a rudimentary knowledge of his religious and personal life. There is an obvious impetus behind Pärt’s methodical writing that somehow surpasses our expectations as listeners, and to dismiss the facets of Pärt that exist alongside of his compositional voice would be to disregard half of the mystery that surrounds him. Pärt’s music, regardless of the listener’s religious preference, has reached an international audience, and brought him to the forefront of concert music in the world today.
Whether it is the objectivity of his harmonic language, or the subjectivity of his introspective silence
21 See Henryk Gorecki and John Tavener, with whom Pärt is commonly grouped (as “holy minimalists”.) Gorecki’s “Totus Tuus”, or Taveners “Funeral Ikon” or “the Whale”.
that captures the heart and soul of the listener, Pärt has made it clear that his tintinnabulation technique is a timeless consideration of western harmony, absent of categorization, and to be treated with distinct care and reverence.
Arvo Pärt, “24 Preludes for a Fugue”, Juxtapositions, 2005.
Cowgill, Rachel E. "'Sacred Music in Secular Times'; Arvo Pärt, an Anachronism in the Twentieth Century?" Diss. 1989. Print.
Davison III, Joseph F. "Ancient Texts, New Voices." Diss. University of California, 2002. Diss. 26.
"Hesychasm." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 25 Nov. 2011.
Hillier, Paul. Arvo Pärt. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. Print.
Hillier, Paul. "Sounding Icons." Arvo Pärt. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. 15. Print.
Langager, Graeme. "The Tintinnabuli Compositional Style of Arvo Pärt." Diss. California State University, 1997. Print.
Pärt, Arvo. Berliner Messe.1990. Rev 2002. Universal Edition, 2007. Print.
Pärt, Arvo. Fur Alina.1976. Universal Edition, 2007. Print.
Pinkerton II, David E. "Discovering the Music of Estonian Composer Arvo Pärt." Choral Journal (1993). Print.
Roman, Hierodeacon. "The Phenomenon of Russian Church Bell Ringing /zvon/ / Returning of the Bells." Returning of the Bells. Web. 25 Nov. 2011.
"Russian Orthodox Bell Ringing." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 25 Nov. 2011.
"Sanctus Bells Their History and Use in the Catholic Church by Matthew D. Herrera." Adoremus Home Page. Web. 25 Nov. 2011. <http://www.adoremus.org/0305SantusBells.html>.
"Tintinnabulation." David Pinkerton's Arvo Pärt Information Archive. Web. 25 Nov. 2011.