Two of the pieces I’m playing in tonight’s University of Hawaii chorus concert are old friends, but the third, “Credo” from Arvo Pärt’s Missa Syllabica, is completely new and the most challenging for me.
Tonight’s program will be held at St. Andrew’s Cathedral at 7:30 pm and will feature parts of the mass all composed by different composers from different eras and countries. The conductors will be Miguel Felipe and Michael Lippert.
Kyrie (Missa Luba) – Guido Haazen (1921-2004)
Glory to God – Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)
Nani Ke‘li‘i ke‘eeki‘e (Glory to the High King) – Lorenzo Lyons (1807-1886)
Psalm 23 – Bobby McFerrin (b. 1950)
Credo (Missa Syllabica) – Arvo Pärt (b. 1935)
Sanctus & Benedictus (Missa Cantus)
– Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger (1839-1901)
Agnus Dei (Missa Puer Natus est) – John S. McCreary (1930-2014)
Kyrie (Missa tiburtina) – Giles Swayne (b. 1946)
Gloria (Messe de Notre Dame) – Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300-1366)
Psalm 42 – Forrest Pierce (b. 1972)
Prayer – Arthur Frackenpohl (b. 1924)
Pentatonic Sanctus – Indra Batara Simanjuntak
Agnus Dei (Missa Papae Marcelli) – Palestrina (1525-1594)
Dona nobis pacem (Mass in B Minor) – Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
I commend an excellent article I found about Arvo Pärt, the man and his music, called “The Sound of Spirit,” published in the New York Times by Arthur Lubow. He begins by recounting the story of when Pärt and his wife emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1980 and were stopped at the border. Seeing all the suitcases filled with records and tapes, they asked to listen.
We took my record player and played ‘Cantus.’ It was like liturgy. Then they played another record, ‘Missa Syllabica.’ They were so friendly to us. I think it is the first time in the history of the Soviet Union that the police are friendly.” He was joking, but not entirely. Later, when I asked Nora about that strange scene at the border, she said, “I saw the power of music to transform people.”
The entire organ part to Pärt’s Missa Syllabica is 28 pages of nothing but an arpeggiated D-minor chord in the “tintinnabuli” style. Here is a small example:
You would think this is super-easy, but in my opinion, it is super-easy to Get Lost! Here is how Pärt’s style has been described in the New York Times article, which he calls “tintinnabuli”:
Pärt’s mature style was inaugurated in 1976 with a small piano piece, “Für Alina,” that remains one of his best-known works. It is governed by the compositional system that he called “tintinnabuli,” derived from the Latin word for “bells.” The tintinnabuli method pairs each note of the melody with a note that comes from a harmonizing chord, so they ring together with bell-like resonance. But the name of the method should not be taken too literally. “It’s a metaphor,” Pärt told me. His wife chimed in, “It’s poetical, and the sound of the word is musical.”
Für Alina can be considered as an essential work of the tintinnabuli style.
By the way, the other two pieces I’m playing are John McCreary’s Agnus Dei from the Missa Puer Natus est and Bach’s Dona nobis pacem from the Mass in B Minor. I told Miguel that I’ve played the McCreary piece every single year over my past twenty years at Iolani, so it truly is an old friend, although it is probably the first time I’ve played it on the Aeolian-Skinner organ at St. Andrew’s Cathedral.
And I can’t help but remember that the Bach Dona nobis pacem was the last that my late husband, Carl, conducted in concert (see my post “Open Letter to the Bach B-Minor Choir“), and the recording of this piece was one I played on his deathbed when he became so visibly moved. Go back and reread my post, “Bach to the end.”