Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, along with contemporaries Henryk Górecki and John Tavener, writes “holy minimalism,” a marriage of minimalist styles that developed in the 1950s-1970s and the early sacred music of Western Europe: plainsong, Gregorian Chant, and polyphony. His works are of an explicitly spiritual nature.

Though Pärt’s 1977 composition Tabula Rasa is my favorite, I’d like to talk today about Miserere (1989), a liturgical work devoted to the Passion like his earlier The Passion of St. John (1982) and Stabat Mater (1985). It begins with a lone voice singing Psalm 51 (“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness…”). At 5:45, the voice is overwhelmed by a drum roll and a devastating crescendo that signals the Day of Wrath. A chorus (of angels, etc.) recites the prophetic verse of Thomas de Celano (died 1255) over a descending musical line reminiscent of the ending of the first section of Tabula Rasa. After 22 minutes, a trombone heralds the end of the world, and by 32:30 there is nothing left, only the voices of the eternal singing the glory of God.

As usual, you can hear a short sample on the Amazon page.

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