Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Listening to Silence: Arvo Part

I am grateful for the people at YouTube for posting some beautiful videos to accompany the music of Arvo Part (the "a" should be umlauted; he's Estonian), which had been vaguely familiar to me from past radio broadcasts. Now I am a fan.

The music is transcendent, not only the famous "Spiegel im Spiegel," with its hypnotic piano music sounding like raindrops but the choral works "De Profundis," "Magnificant," "Nunc Dimittis," etc.

This music is radiant minimalism: experimentally modern in a sense yet traditional enough to move me. It evokes silence, which I've tried in several print articles to define as presence (not at all the absence of sound).

I have found the silence of the timeless present in paintings, in reading and in certain slow films, and in music, too, music that leads to reflection, quieting down like the Mahler "adagietto" movement from the Fifth Symphony. It is virtually impossible to listen to such music with a busy mind.

Silence, wherever it is found, produces a mindfulness to the present moment that David Steindl-Rast has called "the now dimension of time," by which he means an idea of time not running out but "rising like water in a well, rising to that fullness of time that is now."

If this sounds too mysterious, I would respond that mystery is exactly what we need. Aren't all the really major issues--God and the existence of evil, the meaning of happiness and love and life itself--essentially mysteries? The mystic is one who embraces the mysteries of the seen and unseeen worlds and is grateful for them.

So today I am grateful for Arvo Part. I know almost nothing about him except that he has a deeply felt spirituality, perhaps a religious fervor, that manifests itself in music marked by simplicity. For me, this simplicity evokes silence.

1 comment:

Kurt said...

You must find "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten" on the album Sanctuary. My introduction to Arvo Pärt on a cold, rainy Sunday in Duck, NC, listening to the classical radio station from Hampton Roads, Va. Ab-soul-lutely beautiful.....