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Arvo Pärt

The reclusive Pärt wrote the first version of Summa in 1978. Originally conceived for four vocalists with religious texts based on the Latin Credo, in 1990 he re-worked the piece for string orchestra. He later described the music as follows: “I have developed a highly formalized compositional system, which I have been using to write my music for twenty years. Summa is the strictest and enigmatic work in this series”. The sound of the serene and vocal chant-like neo-Baroque approach to the work belies its complexity. The opening theme based on a two note motive is repeated and manipulated multiple times throughout the five-minute work. The orchestration is masterful, as Part maximizes the fact that strings already possess an uncanny ability to blend by placing each of the sections in the upper registers. Other passages constantly rise from lower to higher to combine to form a shimmering, even icy overall sonority. While there is constant motion in this music the overall effect is one of calm and peace and spirituality. One would never guess that of the 49 bars in the piece there are meter changes in 43 of them, and that even though such unusual meters as 10/4, 13/4, and 14/4 are employed, the constant steady flow of the predominately quarter note-based theme makes this music sound less complicated than it really is. The pattern of the opening four bars serves as a repeating template for the entire work: treble voices, tutti voices, followed by middle and lower voices. Interestingly, there are no dynamic indications of any kind, as the variations occur by the natural give and take of the orchestration.

Submitted By Jim Waddelow
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Create Date March 25, 2021
Last Updated March 25, 2021

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