Arvo Pärt

Spiegel im Spiegel, for violin & piano

    Description by Jeremy Grimshaw

    Spiegel im Spiegel, composed in 1978, was the last work Arvo Pärt completed before leaving his native Estonia. Following the inaugural "tintinnabular" works by only two years, the work stands as one of the most carefully distilled examples of Pärt's new compositional aesthetic, and its extreme tranquility contrasts sharply with the tension and frustration that characterized his music from a decade before.

    To fully appreciate the beauty of Spiegel im Spiegel, we must go back a few years. The late 1960s found Pärt in an artistic quandary. Having tired of the brash, neoclassic style of his first published works (see, for example, the Partita), and growing equally frustrated with the predominant serialist style of the day, he composed several works that seemed to reflect no style of his own, but rather comment on the inadequacy of and incompatibility between the choices at hand. Pro et Contra and the Second Symphony, both from 1968, were characterized by rude, jarring juxtapositions of style, and reflected the urgency of Pärt's crisis. Shortly after their composition, Pärt withdrew from public composition altogether, and over the next few years composed only two works. This period was one of intense reflection and study (particularly of Medieval and Renaissance music), and by the time Pärt re-emerged in the late 1970s, he had developed an entirely new approach to composition, which became known as the "tintinnabular" style.

    The principles of tintinnabuli are demonstrated clearly and elegantly in Spiegel im Spiegel. The basic technique calls for a combination of two types of voices: a melodic voice, that moves in simple stepwise fashion across diatonic scales; and a tintinnabula voice, which confines itself to pitches within the tonic triad. The chord tones follow certain variable patterns; in the case of Spiegel im Spiegel, the tintinnabular voice is the second note in each three-note accompanimental figure, which always falls on the nearest chord tone below the melodic voice (transposed down an octave). Thus, in the underlying and omnipresent F major tonality, a melodic voice on an A or G is paired with a tintinnabular voice on F; if the melody moves down to F, the tintinnabular voice drops down to the C, and so forth.

    The striking lyricism of the piece certainly does not suggest the rigid guidelines with which it is constructed. Scored for violin and piano (with the option of transposing the violin part down an octave to be played by a cello), the work is made of slow, steady lines ascending and descending in the violin part, over a serene and uninterrupted arpeggio accompaniment in the piano. This texture is occasionally colored by low, sustained Fs in the bass and high, bell-like (or, to use the word in its original context, tintinnabular) consonances in the upper piano register. The gentle lines in the violin are actually built according to a strict formula: beginning with the two-note scale G-A, the violin alternately ascends then descends to A by step. With each subsequent ascent and descent, a note is added to the line. There is no sense of drama, tension, or ambiguity here--when we hear the violin leap to high G, we know the stepwise path it is going to take on its way back down to A. The beauty of the tintinnabulum is not the construction of emotional trajectory, but rather the creation of an introspective atmosphere made of pure sonority.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Classic FM / Decca CFMD 52
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4796220
    2016 Brilliant Classics 95310BR
    2016 Sony Classical 88985357702
    2016 Classic FM / Decca CFMD 45
    2016 Decca B002528702
    2016 Zefir Records ZEF 9644
    2016 Bayer Records BR 100379
    2016 Erato 556104
    2015 Zefir Records ZEF 9641
    2015 Brilliant Classics BRI 94960
    2014 Naxos 970214
    2014 Pavane / Pavane Records ADW 7562
    2014 A Little Bit Warm Music
    2013 Linn / Linn Records CKD 432
    2013 Decca
    2013 NEOS NEOS 21301
    2013 Decca CDNNNOW 9
    2013 Decca B 001912002
    2013 Decca
    2012 Classic FM
    2012 Solo Musica SM 176
    2012 Analekta AN 296079
    2012 Decca B 001730902
    2012 Marquis Records 774718142924
    2012 ABC Classics 4806403
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099908586223
    2011 Virgin Classics 5099907082
    2011 X5 Music Group X5CD 104
    2011 Deutsche Grammophon 15203
    2011 Deutsche Grammophon 477 929-9
    2011 Decca / Universal Music Group
    2011 EMI Classics 826582B
    2011 EMI Classics
    2010 Analekta 28731
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Estonian Record Productions 2209
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099962944
    2010 Warner Classics
    2010 Erato / Virgin Classics 5099962843
    2009 EMI Classics / EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 5099996424
    2009 Koch International Classics KICCD7762
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099921750
    2008 MSR Classics MS1247
    2008 Lakeshore Records 340092
    2008 RCA Red Seal / Sony BMG 88697203072
    2007 Brilliant Classics 8847
    2007 Analekta AN28725
    2006 Deutsche Grammophon 000646102
    2006 Hearts Of Space / Valley Entertainment 411116
    2005 Naxos 8558182-83
    2005 BIS 1434
    2005 Decca 000518402
    2005 Spiritwood Music 2
    2005 Naxos 8 557782
    2005 EMI Classics 57873
    2004 Black Box Classics 1071
    2004 Classic FM 41
    2004 Virgin 408
    2004 EMI Music Distribution TOCP-67507
    2004 BIS 1392
    2003 Classic FM 32
    2003 ATMA Classique 22115
    2002 Angel Records / EMI Music Distribution 67737
    2001 Black Box / Black Box Classics 1057
    2000 Black Box / Black Box Classics 1018
    2000 EMI Music Distribution 65031
    2000 Nimbus 5631
    1999 Philips 456016
    1999 Marquis Classics 81231
    1998 EMI Music Distribution 73117
    1998 Fleur de Son 57936
    Aangenaam Klassiek 2000202
    ECM / ECM New Series 449958
    EMI Music Distribution 575805
    HMV Classics 72315