Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres” in Eight Versions

This one note, or a moment of silence, comforts me. I work with very few elements – with one voice, with two voices. I build with the most primitive materials – with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation. Tintinnabulation is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers – in my …

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Festina Lente: Three Pieces Which Alter Our Perception of Speed and Time

“Festina lente” is a classical adage which translates as, “Make haste slowly.” Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) chose this contradictory proverb as the title of a hauntingly mystical 1988 composition for strings and harp. Pärt’s Festina Lente has been described as a musical hologram in which the whole is contained in each part. The piece is made up of a single melodic line which is heard at varying rates of speed. Long, sustained tones in the basses …

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“Winter”: VOCES8’s Newest Album

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, today is the first day of winter. It’s a great time to grab a cup of hot chocolate and listen to the newest album of the UK-based a cappella group VOCES8, simply titled, Winter. The album, which came out in October, is a collection of glistening, snow-covered choral soundscapes. Plainscapes I, II, and III by Peteris Vasks (b. 1946) takes us to the frigid desolation of the forests of Latvia. The opening …

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Arvo Pärt’s Credo: The Powers of Order and Chaos

Arvo Pärt’s Credo, written in 1968, is the music of revolution. It’s an expression of disintegration, collapse, and reawakening. It’s a piece in which the pristine, well established order of modernism’s 12-tone-row and the rational counterpoint of J.S. Bach, give way to a terrifying, chaotic, total breakdown. For a moment we hear raging noise…an anguished sound world unimaginable before the twentieth century. Scored for piano, orchestra and chorus (an instrumentation that mirrors Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, Op. 80), Credo is …

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Trinity Church, Boston: Architecture and Sound

  Yesterday marked the anniversary of the birth of noted nineteenth century American architect Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886). Richardson’s memorable and influential designs include the turreted Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh, Albany’s City Hall and New York State Capital, Buffalo’s New York State Asylum, and Chicago’s mighty Marshall Field Wholesale Store (now demolished), as well as a host of libraries and houses in smaller towns. Richardson’s buildings, load-bearing and often featuring extensive stone and …

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From Bawdy to Sacred: A Lassus Kyrie

“Why should the devil have all the good music?” It’s a quote that has been incorrectly attributed to Martin Luther, among others. But Franco-Flemish composer Orlande de Lassus, Palestrina, and other composers in the late Renaissance actually put this idea into practice in the form of the Parody Mass. The Parody Mass borrowed from pre-existing music, often motets and secular chanson. Composers at the time commonly stole and adapted melodies the way jazz musicians do today. …

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Your 2014 Christmas Playlist

With Christmas just a few days away, here is a short collection of music guaranteed to get you in the holiday spirit. Take a break from the rush of last minute shopping, light the tree, pour some eggnog and explore the playlist: Pérotin’s Viderunt omnes Let’s start off with music from the late 12th century. Pérotin was part of a group of composers at Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral who were influential in early …

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