#3 – Arvo Pärt – Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten

The next entry in the “Influential Works” series is the one work that has probably affected me the most, both personally and professionally. Arvo Pärt is an Estonian composer who is strongly influenced by Eastern Orthodox Church music, as well as Gregorian chant. He is the only composer still alive (born in 1935, he continues writing to this day) who appears in this series. In his music, one gets a sense of the sacred and holy that is made more explicit by the setting of religious texts in other works of his, such as Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi secundum Joannem, wherein he sets the entire Passion of Christ from the Gospel of John. This work is a very good example of Pärt’s minimalism. Minimalism means that the materials of the music have been stripped down to their essentials, and generates its sense of forward motion from a process that gradually unfolds rather than the more dramatic, narrative sense of progress such as that of the prior works in this series, Ravel’s “Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte” and Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” Here, see how the violins begin very high, and move downward to their lowest range by adding one further descending note at the end of each larger descent. Meanwhile, the lower strings move at slower rates that are multiples of the high, descending violins. Then, the bell tolls continually on the same note, imparting a sense of finality that is fitting for a work that is in the memory of someone who has passed away. Indeed, the last thing the listener hears is the decay of the bell, while missing the bell’s striking. This whole process makes the music meditative, rather than progressive like most music. The person being remembered is the British composer Benjamin Britten, who himself appears in this series, and who certainly has earned with his own work such a great memorial as this Pärt work here. If you enjoyed this, get ready for more: Pärt will certainly be appearing again, as he is one of my favorites! Again, see the wikipedia page of Arvo Pärt’s Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten if you’d like to know more. Enjoy!

Martin Connor is a music teacher & writer from Philadelphia, PA, with a music degree of high distinction from Duke University who is currently studying for a master’s degree at Brandeis University in Boston, MA, while focusing his research on the vocal melodies of the rap genre. He has contributed freelance articles to HipHopDX, Complex, and Pigeons and Planes, and had multiple articles from his website, www.RapAnalysis.com go viral on BET, The Source, XXL, and MTV. He teaches rap lessons online through the music school LessonFace, and has a book, The Artistry Of Rap Music, forthcoming from the McFarland Publishing House, scheduled for release in late 2017, as a follow-up to his 2014 contribution to their anthology "Eminem & Rap, Poetry, Race." He welcomes all comments, compliments, insults, and restaurant suggestions at mepc36@gmail.com.

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