Arvo Pärt: Out of Silence,
by Peter C. Bouteneff
St Valdimir’s Seminary Press, 2015
I discovered Arvo Pärt’s music a few decades ago, long before I became officially Orthodox. I had never heard anything like that before. There was some depth and mystery there that attracted me deeply.
After becoming Orthodox, I realized Pärt’s faith was strongly present in his music. But only with this book by Bouteneff, Arvo Pärt: Out of Silence, was I able to appreciate to what extent.
This is not a biography. Rather, the author focuses on a couple of major turning points in the artist’s life to show how it impacted the development and orientation of his music.
There are powerful explanations on major elements of the Orthodox faith, as well as some technical details – which made me for instance discover how closely Pärt follows a text he puts into music, and what structure he follows. You may not realize that when you listen, especially if you don’t understand the language he used the text in, originally. Still, you can perceive a structure, even if you can’t completely put your finger on it.
I think the part on tintinnabuli could have be made clearer for those who are not familiar with this technique.
I found an interesting statement page 124:
Such forms of prayer [monologic prayer] exist in other faith traditions. For example, practices associated with the Second Temple Judaism of the early centuries CE offer close comparisons.”
I had never heard about that, and want to research more about it. Are you familiar with this idea?
I would like now to share a few passages that I found quite powerful:
When this eternal Son/Word took on the human composition, the earliest Christian authors called it an act of “self-emptying” (in Greek, kenosis). The idea that this eternally divine person, the world’s creator, chooses to become a time-bound, mortal creature who his vulnerable to his creation, is endlessly profound: doing so was an act of unfathomable detachment. According to Philippians 2:6, Christ did not count his own divinity as something to be attached to, or “grasped.” Christ, the eternal Son of God, becomes the time-bound son of Mary, subject to all that could befall a human being, all the way to death. It was an act of renunciation, of reduction, of self-silencing.
I don’t think I had heard before talk about kenosis as self-silencing. Powerful, as applied to the Word of God.
Broken but redeemed. Fallen but raised. Distorted but we see light. And all of this can be expressed conversely: The world is redeemed, but still suffering. We are raised, but we still die. We see light, but our eyesight is warped. Christians know how this all turns out –at least that it turns out extremely well even though the world we inhabit continues to be deeply ambiguous.
These verses [the Beatitudes] might be misunderstood as an assurance of a karmic reversal of fortune in an inaccessible distant future. Rather, this is the kingdom that Christ has already inaugurated, a kingdom that lives in a perennial tension with the broken reality that remains. That co-existence explains why our experience of the world is so deeply mixed: a bright sadness indeed.
He resonates most deeply with that powerful, dominant strain of ancient Christian tradition that –even as it knows well the joy and lightness inherent in God’s creation– keeps its head down. It is the same sensibility that gives rise to the psalms, the gospels, the desert teachings, and the writings of St Silouan. It is the heart that wearies in yearning for the Lord, the soul that awaits the Lord and thirsts for him, the one that knows the depths to which humanity has sunk in its forgetting of God and of the world’s genuine holiness. It is the soul that, from these very depths, will also never lose sight of the final redeeming power of the God of love.
Such a beautiful way of expressing one of the many paradoxes of our Christian faith! Same thing for the concluding last paragraph of the book:
Theologically speaking, we have been drawn into heaven, although as we enter we know well that we could not have come here without having gone through hell. Nor could we have come here without the loving descent of God. Although the Passio story never arrives at the resurrection, the victory is won: not by the miracle of Jesus’s resurrection, but precisely by his death. The death of the Divine son represents the completion of God’s entry into the world. All is now filled with God. The True light has entered every place that was ever dark, among the living and among the dead, “and the darkness did not overcome it.” So, as bright/sad things are in this strange interim time we live in, all is in fact accomplished. Consummatum est. And what lies ahead is an ever-renewing brightness.
Having all this in mind, I am now planning on relistening to many of Pärt’s works.
I encourage you to try his music (many recordings are available online).
The book contains a few Appendices, especially the whole text of Adam’s Lament, by St Silouan, and the official list of Pärt’s compositions.
PLEASE SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THESE NOTES
Any reflection on these quotes?
[…] Arvo Pärt: Out of Silence, by Peter C. Bouteneff […]
Emma, this really struck me “It is the heart that wearies in yearning for the Lord, the soul that awaits the Lord and thirsts for him, the one that knows the depths to which humanity has sunk in its forgetting of God and of the world’s genuine holiness. It is the soul that, from these very depths, will also never lose sight of the final redeeming power of the God of love.” So beautifully expressed. The Christian faith can only indeed be expressed in such paradoxical terms, as a “bright sadness.” It seems to me that many (myself included) have trouble with holding that paradox and want to resolve it, to rather feel security through splitting the world, not to be in this painful state of longing that yet is full of the assurance that we already possessed by God’s love. I will listen more to Pärt’s music! Music can say so much for which words are inadequate.
I recently gave a talk on the Akathist prayer to the Theotokos, and there too, I highlighted a paradox, and since then, I am more and more struck by all the paradoxes inherent to our Christian faith, elements that modern secularized people would call cognitive dissonance, no doubt.
The “already and not yet” has always struck me. It is both painful AND gives so much dynamism to our faith.
“Bright sadness” comes from St John Climacus (d. 649), and is related to compunction, an important theme in Orthodoxy.
I gave a talk on compunction years ago. If you are interested, it’s available here:
And as for John Climacus, I delivered a paper at the Orthodox Theological Society in America 2008 Consultation and Annual Meeting. It was posted in 3 parts here:
And blessed Easter! Our Pascha will be a week later this year.
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