On first hearing Arvo Pärt and J.S.Bach appear to write very different music: one distilled to the point of crystalization, the other fizzing with richly-hued life. But both have the same notion of order in the universe, of a harmony greater than the musical expressions they give to it. In this patchwork narrative the singer Kathryn Knight uncovers the common denominators and extramusical connections between these two iconic figures - from the art of fugue via quantum mechanics and the honeycomb to the technique of tintinnabulation. With the Reverend Alan Walker, Dr John Crook, Guy Denning, and Konrad Volker.
Written and produced by Antony Pitts.
A Golden Radio production.
Charles Tomlinson's poem begins:
If Bach had been a beekeeper
he would have heard
all those notes
suspended above one another
in the air of his ear...
Linked superficially by Pärt's musical references in If Bach had been a Bee-keeper and other works, Bach and his Estonian co-conspirator seem to represent opposing currents in the ocean of Western classical music, but in this meditative and wide-ranging tour their strange numerical relationship comes to light. With his imperial touch Old Bach apotheosized all existing forms in timeless Elysian gold, while those same traditional casts were shattered by the Estonian revolutionary Arvo Pärt, in order to reshape a musical future from the simplest elements of sound and silence. Around these central two strands are heard an ebb and flow of creative responses from very different worlds...
Overflow and notes:
Reichardt tells the tale of Bach turning up where an "amateur was sitting and improvising at a harpsichord. The moment the latter became aware of the presence of the great master, he sprang up and left off with a dissonant chord. Bach, who heard it, was so offended by this musical unpleasantness that he passed right by his host, who was coming to meet him, rushed to the harpsichord, resolved the dissonant chord, and made an appropriate cadence. Only then did he approach his host and make him his bow of greeting."
Archimandrite Sophrony: "In my young days... I had been attracted to the idea of pure creativity, taking the form of abstract art.... I derived ideas for my abstract studies from life around me. I would look at a man, a house, a plant, at intricate machinery, extravagant shadowscapes on walls or ceilings, at quivering bonfire flames, and would compose them into abstract pictures, creating in my imagination visions that were not like actual reality.... Fortunately I soon realised that it was not given to me, a human being, to create from 'nothing', in the way only God can create. I realised that everything that I created was conditioned by what was already in existence. I could not invent a new colour or line that had never existed anywhere before. An abstract picture is like a string of words, beautiful and sonorous in themselves, perhaps, but never expressing a complete thought..."
The music of Arvo Pärt shimmers like the surface of the sea in sunlight: there is almost infinite and unpredictable detail, yet it is 'the sea' rocked by the interface of aerial and underwater currents and 'the sun' unyielding in its heavenly gaze. Which brings us to the actual elements of Pärt's radical new tintinnabuli style: one constantly-changing up-or-down movement heard against one constant 'harmony' (a reconciliation of the horizontal and the vertical, the subjective and the objective). Pärt explains: "One line is my sins, and another line is forgiveness for these sins.".
Kathryn Knight on common denominators and extramusical connections between Part and Bach.