The music of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is perhaps the polar opposite of Baroque music. While the aesthetic of the latter values complexity, movement, bravura expressivity, and virtuosity, Pärt embraces an austere tonal style he calls “tintinnabulation,” inspired by Medieval chant and Renaissance polyphony.
In his words, “Tintinnabulation is like this. Here, I am alone with silence. I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comforts me. The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation.”
Summa reflects its origins as an a cappella vocal work for four singers with text from the Credo of the Mass. First written in 1978, it was arranged by the composer for string orchestra some twelve years later. Although he did not specify period instruments, the clarity of their intonation and transparency of their sound complement the transcendence of the mesmerizing harmony. There is a gentle, jaunty lilt to the rocking two-note motif that pervades the work with Baroque regularity, and the repetitions give a spiritual mantra-like dimension to the piece.