cover image Between Two Sounds: Arvo Pärt’s Journey to His Musical Language

Between Two Sounds: Arvo Pärt’s Journey to His Musical Language

Joonas Sildre, trans. from the Estonian by Adam Cullen. Plough, $26 (230p) ISBN 978-1-63608-134-2

Sildre (Messages from Ukraine) delivers a lyrical ode to composer Arvo Pärt that translates the minimalist beauty and power of Pärt’s music to the page. Born in Estonia in 1935, Pärt grows up in a nation occupied alternately by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. As a young composer, he experiments with avant-garde styles and strict formalism (“I believe it’s possible to give every mathematical equation a musical form,” he tells a journalist). Later, his interest in Gregorian chant transforms his art and his life: he infuses his music with a sense of the sacred, develops his signature tintinnabuli form, and, with his second wife and creative partner, Nora, converts to the Orthodox church. Neither the modernist nor the religious aspects of Pärt’s music sit well with Soviet censors—after being blacklisted and blocked from leaving the country, he sardonically defends himself in court while costumed as a “dissident” in a hippie wig. Sildre’s sepia-toned linework, with touches of mid-century modern abstraction, harmonizes with Pärt’s revolutionary blend of sacred humanism and formalist modernity. As Pärt strives toward artistic and spiritual purity, driven by the conviction that “evil itself is destroyed when it encounters love,” his music is visualized in dots and lines that swoop around listeners or stab at their hearts. Lovers of art and music will be inspired. (Sept.)