Arvo Pärt’s “In Spe”: Building With Primitive Materials

For eight years, beginning in the late 1960s, the Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt (b. 1935), entered into a period of compositional “silence.” When Pärt resumed his work, the music which emerged was far removed from that of his earlier modernist style. Ultra-complexity and dissonance were gone, replaced with a sense of timeless, meditative serenity. Pärt embraced the sanctity of a single note, or a glowing triad. “The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity,” he said. “Everything that is unimportant falls away.” On another occasion, he went further, explaining,

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.

Pärt’s tintinnabulation is rooted in the pure strains of Gregorian chant and other early sacred music. Composed in 1976, In Spe (Latin for “in the hope”) is one of the earliest examples of this style. First scored for four-part choir, the work underwent various iterations, culminating with a 2010 scoring for wind quintet and string orchestra. Pärt’s notation is evocative of medieval music, in which specific rhythms and meters are unspecified and reduced to longer “white” notes alternating with shorter “black” notes. Single voices drift through time and combine before receding again into eternal silence.


  • Pärt: In Spe, Simone Menezes, K, Amazon 
Featured Image: Arvo Pärt’s manuscript for “In Spe” 

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.

2 thoughts on “Arvo Pärt’s “In Spe”: Building With Primitive Materials”

  1. A stepping away from complexity marked the transition between baroque and classical music, and also between classical and Romantic music. It’s unclear if we can have another dominant style emerge because post-modernism has led to such multivariance that stylistic trends are difficult to recognize. What comes after post-modernism? Post-modernism turns 80 in two years. That is a long time, and most of what was good about post-modernism happened around 1945. That was the groundbreaking time for postmodernism in many different art forms: literature, music, and painting. If a new stylistic period is to emerge it will likely take the form of drastic simplification, like the early classical symphonies of Haydn, or the piano songs of Schubert. It could be argued that the modern period in music also began with a simplification; with Stravisnky’s insistence on the clarity of the line, which stepped away from the lush full chords of the Rockmaninoff piano music. When we move on to a new style of classical music, the new music is often much simpler than the music in the last part of the preceding age.

  2. The music of Arvo Part belongs to a contemporary classical sub-genre I love that is characterized by (among other things) mystical-spiritual simplicity… others such as John Tavener and Max Richter and to some extent Anna Clyne explore similar styles and feelings (as have scores of other late 20th century composers such as Hovhaness). It’s certainly one welcome response to decades of overly complex abstract compositions that challenge rather than invite the listener – but there are others.

    As to the question of what comes after postmodernism, my view is it’s next to impossible for any single broad stylistic form to emerge from the current pluralism since all genres and styles are already interpenetrating – classical within itself but also with jazz, rock, R&B, hip hop, not to mention the numerous world-ethnic styles from Latin America, the Near East, Africa, India and beyond. Most of these genres are made up of dozens of sub-genres that are all mixing and sharing among themselves but also reaching out to truly wonderful cross-genre fusion forms. As one small example, this week I will see *Shakti* a band which fuses jazz (John McLaughlin) and Indian classical music (Zakir Hussein and others), drawing from both Hindustani and Carnatic music traditions since members are from both regions of India.


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