Addam Farmer Materials of Modern Music 12/7/2011 Research Paper Final Arvo Part Spiegel im Spiegel Spiegel im Spiegel, originally written for violin and piano, is one of Arvo Part’s most influential compositions. At first listen, the composition sounds like a standard minimalist piece: it is in F Major, written in 6/4 time, and over 8 minutes long. The most important aspect of the piece lies not in the musical content itself, but in the way that Part uses that content. Arvo Part was an extremely spiritual human being, devoting even his music-making to his spirituality.
His “tintinnabuli” style was created with the intent to mirror the Biblical portrayal of Jesus Christ. “On the surface it is calm, as was Christ’s external acceptance of his inevitable role in the salvation of all humanity. Yet it bears an undercurrent of turmoil and desperation…” (Langager, pg. 61) Described in a practical manner, Part’s method of composing in the tintinnabuli style involves hovering around the tonic triad in order to create a “bell-like” quality. In fact, the term tintinnabuli is the literal reference to the ringing of bells in Latin.
Futhermore, the tintinnabular style of Part creates an effect “in which a chord lingers in time until all of the elements of the triad have sounded. ” (Langager, pg. 29) Part goes on to explain another important aspect of his tintinnabuli style in an interview with the BBC: Tintinnabuli is the mathematically exact connection from one line to another…tintinnabuli is the rule where the melody and the accompaniment [or accompanying voice]…is one. One plus one, it is one – it is not two. This is the secret of this technique. It is clear that Part’s ultimate goal was to do as much as he can with as little as he had. His “one plus one” equals one philosophy can be blatantly heard in Spiegel im Spiegel. The literal German translation for Spiegel im Spiegel is “mirror in the mirror. ” When listening to the piece with this knowledge, we can hear why Part gave the composition its title. The piece feels like an infinite amount of reflections like that created by a mirror in a mirror: the seemingly endless repetition of the tonic triad in the piano is responsible for this aural illusion.
This falls exactly in line with Part’s description of tintinnabuli: that is, the emphasis of the triad over an extended period of time. The piano arpeggiates around this tonic triad for what seems like forever, which puts the listener into what Part would describe as a “spiritual” trance. At about 15 seconds into the piece, a violin carefully makes its entrance. The violin’s simple part helps it to merge with the piano sequence, making true Part’s equation of “one plus one equals one. ” The violin line consists of nothing but whole notes, and is completely devoid of syncopation.
It is true that one can examine the piano and violin as being two mirrors: they are two different instruments, but when faced towards each other, they reflect the other and it becomes difficult to tell one from the other. Throughout Spiegel im Spiegel, the two different mirrors (the violin and the piano) reflect each other, portraying a sense of unity. While the violin line is extremely simple in its melodic content, the way Part expands upon the melody is unique and somewhat sneaky. The violin line begins by ascending from G to middle A. Then, it descends from B flat to middle A.
Following that, it ascends from F to G to middle A. Basically, each time it ascends, at the last part of the sequence, the note ascends one step higher than it had the previous ascension. The same goes for the descending lines. Once the violin reaches the outermost note, it returns right back to A (the third of the key signature), without even touching another note before it. Part very obviously planned for this to happen as it is pitch relationship in the violin is extremely ordered and mathematical. This trait can evade the listener easily – I didn’t even notice it was happening until I took the violin line apart.
Upon further analysis we hear that the piano begins by playing a second inversion F Major chord arpeggiation, repeated in an endless manner. This arpeggiation is modified throughout the piece, switching between root position and the inherent second inversion that happens when the left hand note fades out. Simply by inverting the chord, Part changes the feel of the key. Had he written the extended arpeggiation of the F major in root position the entire time, the composition would feel much more “campy” – it could have felt like a children’s song.
Instead, inverting the arpeggiated chord in second inversion gives the music a deeper, more passionate quality. In addition, the chords in the piano necessarily mirror what the violin does in terms of its mathematical pitch sequences. The musical content and context of Spiegel im Spiegel is true to its title. The violin line gives off the illusory effect that it is static when it is actually extending its range, while the piano’s endlessly-repeated second inversion F Major chord creates a wave of emotion.
The violin and piano’s juxtaposing-yet-unifying musical content give it the sense that we are hearing what a mirror’s reflection of another mirror would sound like. Spiegel im Spiegel encompasses all things tintinnabular; that is, all things Arvo. Bibliography: Langager, Graeme. “The Tintinnabuli Compositional Style of Arvo Part. ” British Colombia, Canada; Long Beach, California. 1997. Arvo Part & Anthony Pitt. BBC 3 Radio Interview. Royal Academy of Music, London. 2000.
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