Listening

I’ve set the Havergal Brian aside for the moment, he’s just not doing it for me, and pulled out another CD from my shopping bag in the van. This one is Lamentate by Arvo Pärt. It is for piano and small orchestra, not exactly a concerto, but a suite of pieces that feature the piano as the “one” with which we identify.

I like it a lot, so went to load it into iTunes, then found out I already had. Clearly I have never paid attention to it.

It was written in response to Anish Kapoor’s gigantic sculpture Marsyas and in fact had its premiere there in the Tate Gallery’s Turbine Hall. I returned to that fact after listening to the piece twice and it makes an interesting difference in hearing it.

The music is very beautiful: stark, powerful, tender, and very sad. Pärt says that, inspired by the staggering vastness of the Kapoor piece, it is a lament for the living, who have to deal with the issues of death and suffering, who have to struggle with the pain and hopelessness of this world.

The large movements, like the first two, marked Minacciando and Spietato (“threatening” and “pitiless”) are awesome, but it is the slow movements that tear at your heart. The fourth, Pregando (“praying”), is a lovely meditation, while the ninth, Lamentabile, is Pärt at his breath-holding best. Using a modal scale, the piano and oboe trade a plaintive lament against a steady ppp ostinato. The upper keys of the piano give out frightened little bird cries while the lower strings sigh and dissolve, all in the enormous echoing cavern of the exhibit hall. I can only imagine what it would be like to sit beneath that gargantuan sculpture and hear this music.

This is music I want to write.

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