Week 55: “Spiegel Im Spiegel” by Arvo Pärt


Q: What is an “Arvo Pärt”?

a)      A compact car

b)      A German fighter plane from World War II

c)       I think I bought one of those from Ikea once

d)      A popular but racy style of Norwegian bathing suit

You earn a million points if you answered, “none of the above! He’s an Estonian composer who’s all kinds of awesome!” And if you didn’t know that, it’s okay. After all, unless you live in Estonia, it’s doubtful that you even know where Estonia is, never mind who their most prominent composer of sacred music might be.

As Pärt was beginning a career as a composer, he was bursting with ideas, but a bit starved for inspiration; because Estonia was occupied by the Soviets, he wasn’t able to listen to any music from the outside world, other than a few illegal records he managed to get his hands on. Eventually, in 1980, he fled his homeland to live in Vienna. He wrote this piece shortly before leaving.


What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The title. Translated, it means, “the mirror in the mirror”, which conjures up images of the never-ending corridor of mirrors you see when two mirrors face each other. A hypnotic mental picture for a hypnotic song.

2. Tintinnabuli. I didn’t just make that word up, and it has nothing to do with this guy. It’s Pärt’s own compositional technique, in which two voices interact; one repeating arpeggios on the tonic, while the other moves diatonically up or down the scale. He used this simple concept throughout his career, and the results are soothtastic. (And yes, that one I did make up.)

3. The occasional low notes on the piano. They anchor the wandering arpeggios, and give the song the hint of power that it needs.


Recommended listening activity:

Adding ten minutes to your lunch hour.

Buy it here.