Arvo Pärt – Tabula Rasa

August 26, 2007

I don’t think I would call myself a fan of classical music. I like classical music, and appreciate classical music very much, and have played classical music for many years, but I don’t listen to it in my spare time very much. I have very little classical music in my collection. The essentials mostly… Beethoven, Mozart, Handel, Vivaldi, etc. And my mother is big on Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, etc. And unfortunately, most of these works lie untouched by my fingers simply because I usually have a taste for more engaging music. It is not the kind of music that keeps my ear in touch, even though it interests me. I’m not a fanatic, or a fan.

But every once and a while there is a classical piece that I hear and really, really enjoy. Many times they are various works by Handel, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, etc. The basic, well known stuff. It came to my attention that a good deal of popular music fans, or at least indie rockers, seem to have a taste for a piece called Tabula Rasa by a Russian artist known as Arvo Pärt, whom I had never heard of. Apparently this collection of four pieces is a rather big deal, and I’m surprised that I had not heard of it. Upon first listen, I was already floored by the CD which I had ordered on the internet by complete speculation. At least as floored as a classical album can floor me.

Actually, the first time I heard anything from Tabula Rasa was about a half year ago, when this absolutely wonderful violinist from my school played Fratres as a solo. It was pretty intense. He came from the audience and played as he walked up onto the stage. It was almost a little pretentious, but he’s that good that he can pull off the fingering acrobatics that are necessary at the beginning of Fratres, as heard on the first moments of Tabula Rasa. It was not until I mentioned to my music theory teacher last week, who also directs the schools orchestras, that I really loved Tabula Rasa that I found out that it was that same piece that I heard so long ago.

One thing that needs to be in effect when I listen to classical music. I only listen to classical music very loud. I’m sure there is a reason for it, but classical music is mixed much quieter than other recordings, so to get the full effect and hear the resilience, I just have to crank the volume to ludicrous levels. Hearing Tabula Rasa this loud was a liberating experience. Why this music held my interest more than other stuff I probably like more, like Beethoven or Handel, could be due to a myriad of reasons. For one thing, the pieces switch up the style a lot, which is unusual for a classical album. The album consists of four songs total. Two of them are different versions of the same piece called Fratres, one played with a violin and a piano and the other played with twelve cellists. Another song is the absolutely gorgeous, destructively tragic funeral dirge Cantus In Memory Of Benjamin Britten. And the final song is a twenty five minute long progressive melancholy masterpiece, Tabula Rasa, which gives the album it’s name. All of these songs are surely gorgeous.

The two versions of Fratres are both absolutely wonderful, without a doubt. The piece is a ten minute long creative forray into melancholy orchestral music. In some ways, the music sounds a bit religious, but not demandingly so. I have a feeling the word “Fratres,” which is Latin for “brother” might refer to a religious figure. But I don’t think that the pieces are very religiously themed as they are religiously styled. What the two different versions allow are for completely different angles to be explored in the music. The first version with violin and piano allows for a lot of impressive, complex dynamics that only a solo can make way for. The piano adds a bit of needed mystique, and the rapid fire soloing power that the violin is quite great. The version with twelve cellos is more melancholy, and at the same time sounds more polished. When you have twelve instruments on the playing field for making music, some doors really get opened up. The cello is a beautiful, gorgeous instrument that really gets a lot of room for expansion here, and the sweeping orchestration sounds perfect next to the occasional simple drum beats that softly pervade the music.

Possibly the albums most beautiful moment comes with the comparatively brief and fleeting Cantus In Memory Of Benjamin Britten. A mere five minutes long in comparison to the releases three other epics. This piece needs to be heard to be believed. The strings melt down and tragically swoop into the listeners ears. This is truly the sound of death, a perfect song to remember the living. Beautiful, tragic, destructive, wonderful. The final piece which consists about half of the album, Tabula Rasa, is as continuously interesting and engaging as Fratres, an already impressively engaging classical piece. I go to a lot of symphonies, and even when it is a great piece that I love, I fall asleep a lot, which isn’t good. I can imagine if I heard Tabula Rasa played all the way through, I would not fall asleep. This is, strangely enough, a classical piece that is very fun to get to know, and it has distinctly different parts that all mesh together, so it is never boring or repetitive. Arvo Pärt knows how to appeal to mass audience, I’ll bet.

This music is very inspiring, and it lets me know that not all modern classical music is atonal experimental trash. I feel like I really was rewarded by listening to the album, and gained a lot. This is now one of my favorite classical pieces, and I hope to hear more pieces by Pärt in the future.


  1. hi and congratulations that you have discovered Arvo Part! i’ve been listening to his music for ~7 years now and he is still my favourite. pls note that Arvo Part is not russian – he is from Estonia (one of the 3 Baltic States). btw Tabula Rasa in the original ECM record is played by Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra /I myself live in Lithuania (another baltic State) 🙂
    http://www.ecmrecords.com/Catalogue/New_Series/1200/1275.php?cat=%2FArtists%2FP%E4rt+Arvo%23%23Arvo+P%E4rt&we_start=8&lvredir=712 I do recommend for you to listen another Parts’ album “Alina”. It is different but also marvelous.. Best regards from Lithuania 😉

  2. totally agree with you, i have 9 albums by him and they are all excellent. i think you’ll like a German composer called Max Richter, especially songs like Sarajevo from the album Memoryhouse. also check out a band called Stars Of The Lid, the album And Their Refinement Of The Decline, they’re unbelievable. take care and have a great Christmas.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: