Arvo Pärt - Für Alina and the tintinnabuli style

Contemplating a Bell

"Tintinnabulation is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers - in my life, my music, my work. In my dark hours, I have the certain feeling that everything outside this one thing has no meaning. The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity. What is it, this one thing, and how do I find my way to it? Traces of this perfect thing appear in many guises - and everything that is unimportant falls away. Tintinnabulation is like this. . . . The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation."

Quite an amazing description, I should say, by Estonian composer Pärt, describing his self-created form of composition.  It has been said that true artistic expression and creativity can only be realized after imposing a certain degree of restraint on the art (this is somewhat appropriate considering Estonia's relatively dimiunitive size -- it is only slightly smaller than New Hampshire and Vermont combined).  The restraint pioneered by Pärt is a strict adherence to two voices; the lower arpeggiating and the upper moving stepwise.  Upon listening to his descriptions, one begins to wonder if he has a degree of synesthesia, or an altered/transcendent way of hearing music all his own.  Regardless, Für Alina (1976) has something to offer everybody with a penchant for contemplation.

Arvo in his own words:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c08i_9gumJs

I've ranted before about the failures of much Twentieth Century music to speak to its audience, but I think that the return in the mid-late century to principles of consonance and dissonance palatable to the lay ear was a tremendous step forward.  Minimalism was a long-anticipated step back into the familiar waters of implicit tonality, like a hot tub cleaning off the tarnish of tone rows.  Perhaps it's unsurprising that some of the pieces were and are very simplistic, given the artifice preceding it.  However, one common criticism of minimalism that should certainly not be applied to Für Alina would be that of emotional blankness -- rather, the piece speaks insistently at emotional drives.