Recommended Lecture on a Contemporary Symphonic Piece

I heard a most remarkable lecture today by Cecilia Sun entitled, “Arvo Pärt’s ‘Credo’: Composition in a Time of Crisis.” It is part of the Saint Katherine College Forum lecture series, originally presented Oct. 15, 2012. Pärt’s ‘Credo’ is neither music I would understand nor care for without a lot of explanation. Dr. Sun offers a wonderful and accessible explanation in this lecture.

The composition for orchestra and chorus is a mash-up of J.S. Bach’s arguably most famous prelude the Prelude No. 1 in C-Major set against both twelve tone row, and a bit of musical indeterminacy. All of this is the setting for a text based on both the Nicene Creed and Jesus’ words in Matthew’s Gospel. Pärt says the piece expresses a battle between good and evil and the manner that Love ultimately wins out over evil.

Without Dr. Sun’s careful exegesis of the music, complete with many examples, I would have had neither the patience nor the expertise to figure out what was going on in this remarkable clash of traditional and avant-garde music.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, love is a deeply painful experience and victory is humbling. (And here I don’t mean in the sense of, “I am humbled to stand in front of this huge, adoring crowd in order to receive this $1000 prize.”, rather I mean it in the sense of achieving victory at the moment of death on a cross, the crowds jeering, and disciples disbelieving.) It is this ambiguous and enigmatic character of the victory of love that Pärt captured. Near the end of lecture Dr. Sun played the last few minutes of the piece and the beauty of its sorrow brought tears to my eyes.

If anyone is interested in listening to the lecture it can be found at Ancient Faith Radio.

And, by the way, on the Saint Katherine College Forum page, along with some interesting lectures on poetry and science is another study of a famous musical piece: The Musical Sources of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, by Dr. Vladimir Morosan.

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