Arvo Pärt’s “The Beatitudes”: Meditative Minimalism

“Time has a deep meaning, but it is temporary, like our lives. Only eternity is timeless.”

-Arvo Pärt

Sound, silence, and time are mystical properties in the music of the Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt (b. 1935).

Pärt’s early music inhabited the complex, twelve-tone world of twentieth century modernism. Then, in the late 1960s, he entered eight years of compositional silence, creating little more than musical fragments jotted in a notebook. When Pärt began to compose again in 1976, a radically new style emerged, rooted in the contemplative mysticism of chant and early polyphony. In a technique known as Tintinnabulation, the simplicity of the triad takes on spiritual significance. We’re confronted with pure sound, as in the overtones of a bell. This simplicity, which emerges out of violent chaos in his 1968 Credois fundamental to Pärt’s music.

We hear all of this in Arvo Pärt’s 1990 setting of The Beatitudes, based on the text from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in the Book of Matthew. This is one of the first choral works in which the composer uses the English language. Mirroring the text, the music takes on the quality of a meditative recitation. As each clause moves a chromatic step higher, we get a sense of gradually rising tension. After ascending a fifth, the process reverses in the final bars, with a fluid sense of “unwinding” in the organ. The piece ends where it began.

Recordings

  • Pärt: The Beatitudes, Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, David Goode, Stephen Cleobury prestomusic.com

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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