"A poet from the north:" Arvo Pärt, Orient and Occident, and the aural architecture of his orthodox faith
Forrestal, John Daniel
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Arvo Pärt is a contemporary sacred composer who is recognized for developing what he has referred to as the ‘tintinnabuli’ compositional technique. His tintinnabuli technique has led him to great success both in and outside of the Classical music world. Although a self-professed Orthodox Christian (to which he converted in 1972), he has composed choral works for Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican services. In the year 2000, Pärt composed the work Orient and Occident for string orchestra. The work is a wordless tintinnabuli setting of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. Its idiosyncratic use of dissonance, string techniques, and modal vocabulary is atypical of his tintinnabuli works. Several reviews suggest that Orient and Occident shares similarities with Near-Eastern music, or the characteristics of Islamic cantillation. Throughout Pärt’s compositional career, he has declined to comment in depth on his own spirituality, and he has left it to his audience to draw their own conclusions. He has suggested letting the music "speak for itself," as a symbol to convey his own inner spiritual thoughts. I suggest that Orient and Occident is an exposition of his own inner Orthodoxy, and a musical mediation of his Orthodox faith in relation to other faiths, Christian or otherwise. This thesis considers the ways in which we view Pärt as mediator for sacred music in a secular, postmodern environment, through Orient and Occident and historical perspectives of the icon in Byzantine Orthodox traditions. It examines the broader connotations of Pärt, the icon, and spirituality; providing insights into his 2010 performance in Istanbul. It examines the ‘aural architecturality’ of tintinnabulation, through hermeneutic and phenomenological theories surrounding iconography and light mysticism. It tackles the notions of ‘catholicity’ and ecumenicity with which the world has come to know Pärt; from the lens of his Orthodox faith, and extending outwards across geographical, cultural, political, and spiritual borders.
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