Minimalist music open to transcendence, music therapy, depression and music

Arvo Pärt and rebirth of the spirit

Music is the most immaterial of the arts. For a long time, it was not even written down. It seems to disappear with the last echo of the final note. Is that not a reflection of our life?

Music easily touches the spirit and responds to or queries our inner world. If we let it act, at times it fills us with peace, at other times with sadness, anxiety, or burning euphoria. It enters and leaves the heart forcefully. It accompanies sad moments and joys, solemn, tragic or comic events, even transgressions.

Spanish Version

I recently became acquainted with the work of Arvo Pärt (1935), for whom we offer some selected pieces, such as his Salve Regina (2001). This great Estonian composer has created a musical language of his own. One of his key concepts is “tintinnabuli” – a fluctuation of notes that imitates the sound of bells. This is how he himself defines it:

Tintinnabulation is an area I sometimes delve into when I'm searching for answers - in my life, my music, my work. In my dark hours, I have the sure feeling that everything outside of this has no meaning. The complex and multifaceted only confuses me, and I have to search for unity. What is this and how can I get to it? Traces of this perfection appear in many forms - and everything unimportant fades away. Tintinnabulation is something like this... The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that's why I call it tintinnabulation.

The harmonic compass of the notes easily tunes in to our being. As an example, one can listen to Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in a mirror; 1978), whose melody dances within a scale from a high note to its opposite. That pendular form also reminds us that our life is fluctuating, that our emotions are fleeting, and perhaps that there is something more than this everyday life.

Overcoming depression with the music of Arvo Pärt

"I could compare my music to white light, which contains all colours," Pärt tells us. "Only a prism can make them appear. This prism could be the spirit of the listener." Neither excess nor the simple are his. He is characterized by minimalism and is capable, for example, of composing a lullaby with only two words: Kuss-Kuss Kallike – “Sleep, dear” (Estonian).

After listening to Pärt, I was not surprised by the testimony of a person who told of how his music had greatly relieved her depression. There is a vibration of eternity whenever a piece by this author is performed.

Music therapy is known to achieve some positive results in psychic illnesses, reducing stress and stimulating specific brain areas. But Pärt's works respond to the greatest longing of the spirit: the need to be affirmed in my own value, in what I am capable of, in being loved for what I myself am.

Minimalist music that enlarges the soul

Arvo Pärt testifies that life is worth living, because there is a creator God who cares for man and sent his son Jesus Christ to lift us up from our limitations and miseries. Pärt is someone who knows how to recognize his nothingness before the creator, who wishes to be humble; he always made this clear.

In his scores there is nothing superfluous. Every note, every chord, is thought out. But neither are there loose or meaningless chords. The harmony is full, as the love of God is full. Here is perhaps its highest value: it makes us feel that we can, that there is a meaning to everything, that we are not alone or isolated even if we feel that way and despair drowns us at times. Emotions take their place in prayer.

Listening to Pärt, I was reminded of St Josemaría, a contemporary saint who encouraged modern apostles when he said that their footsteps resound in heaven like silver bells.

I said at the beginning that music ends after the last echo. In reality, that is not so. Music continues to resonate in our spirit if we have been able to truly experience it. That is why it can transform us.

And music is part of what is good to say or not to say in depression, which we saw in another article.

I invite you to listen to these bells in some of Arvo Pärt's creations.

Wenceslao Vial

Salve Regina by Arvo Pärt:

Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt

Kuss-Kuss, Kallike by Arvo Pärt

Excerpt from Arvo Pärt's speech at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, May 31, 2014.