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 / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2018
    Various Artists
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2018
    Various Artists
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2018
    Various Artists
    Warner Classics
    573590
    2018
    Onyx Classics
    ONYX 4201
    2018
    ABC Classics
    4817469
    2018
    Classic FM
    2018
    Classic FM / Decca
    CFMD 61
    2018
    Neue Meister
    030115NM
    2018
    Avie
    AV 2386
    2018
    Naxos Books
    9781781980293
    2017
    Sono Luminus
    DSL 92217
    2017
    Classic FM / Decca
    CFMD 52
    2017
    ABC Classics
    2017
    Various Artists
    Decca
    2017
    Various Artists
    Decca / Verve
    4832355
    2016
    Various Artists
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4796220
    2016
    Various Artists
    Brilliant Classics
    95310BR
    2016
    Sony Classical
    88985357702
    2016
    Various Artists
    Decca
    B002528702
    2016
    Various Artists
    Classic FM / Decca
    CFMD 45
    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
    Various Artists
    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
    477 929-9
    2011
    Deutsche Grammophon
    15203
    2011
    Classic FM
    2011
    Various Artists
    EMI Classics
    826582B
    2011
    Various Artists
    EMI Classics
    2010
    Analekta
    28731
    2010
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2010
    Estonian Record Productions
    2209
    2010
    Various Artists
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099962944
    2010
    Various Artists
    Warner Classics
    2010
    Various Artists
    Erato / Virgin Classics
    5099962843
    2009
    EMI Classics / EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics
    5099996424
    2009
    Koch International Classics
    KICCD7762
    2008
    Various Artists
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099921750
    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
    Various Artists
    Naxos
    8558182-83
    2005
    EMI Classics
    2005
    BIS
    1434
    2005
    Various Artists
    Decca
    000518402
    2005
    Spiritwood Music
    2
    2005
    Naxos
    8 557782
    2005
    EMI Classics
    57873
    2004
    Black Box Classics
    1071
    2004
    Classic FM
    41
    2004
    Various Artists
    Virgin
    408
    2004
    EMI Music Distribution
    TOCP-67507
    2004
    BIS
    1392
    2003
    Classic FM
    32
    2003
    ATMA Classique
    22115
    2002
    Various Artists
    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