Arvo Pärt is an Estonian composer of contemporary classical music. Since the late 1970s, Pärt has worked in a minimalist style that employs tintinnabuli, a compositional technique he invented. Pärt’s music is in part inspired by Gregorian chant. From 2011 to 2018, Pärt was the MOST PERFORMED LIVING COMPOSER in the world, and the second most performed in 2019—after John Williams.
Kanon Pokajanen is a 1997 composition by Arvo Pärt for four-part choir. The text is the “Canon of Repentance to Our Lord Jesus Christ”, an Orthodox hymn in Church Slavonic and is sung a cappella, following the tradition of Russian sacred choral music.
Arvo Pärt describes his encounter with the text and the history of setting this text to music thus:
Many years ago, when I first became involved in the tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church, I came across a text that made a profound impression on me although I cannot have understood it at the time. It was the Canon of Repentance.
Since then I have often returned these verses, slowly and arduously seeking to unfold their meaning. Two choral compositions (Nun eile ich…., 1990 and Memento, 1994) were the first attempts to approach the canon. I then decided to set it to music in its entirety-from beginning to end. This allowed me to stay with it, to devote myself to it; and, at the very least, its hold on me did not abate until I had finished the score…
It took over two years to compose the Kanon pokajanen, and the time “we spent together” was extremely enriching. That may explain why this music means so much to me.
Pärt was commissioned by KölnMusic GmbH to write a work commemorating the 750th anniversary of the building of Cologne Cathedral. He finished it in 1997 and it premiered at Cologne Cathedral on March 17, 1998, performed by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir under the direction of Tõnu Kaljuste, to whom (both choir and conductor) this piece was dedicated.
Arvo Pärt’s Kanon Pokajanen, premiered 25 years ago to the month, and offered to you at the height of this Lenten season with this concert, is a journey into the depth of Eastern Orthodox spirituality by vehicle of repentance. In this masterwork, Pärt weaves the fabrics of sound and silence as space and negative space. He approaches this medium through a sense of time that reflects the minimalism and timelessness of both the kanon’s Church Slavonic text and of Orthodox liturgics in general. We invite you along this life-lifting journey, embodied by the artistry of Arvo Pärt, presented by PaTRAM Institute and performed by the Osanna Chamber Ensemble.