Dedicated to Tonu Kaljuste and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Commissioned by KolnMusik GmbH for the 750th anniversary celebration of Cologne Cathedral in 1998.
Publisher: Universal Edition Wien
Recorded June 1997,
Niguliste Church, Tallinn
World premiere recordings of music for choir by Arvo Part, made in Tallinn with the participation of the composer. "Music," as writer Uwe Schweikert notes, "full of austere, painful beauty. Particularly impressive is the subtle, often breathtaking transition from full to divided choral music, from the sound of high women's to deep men's voices, which often provide the music with a sonorous bourdon-like foundation. The amplitude of the composition which in the final prayer gradually rises above the calm only to disappear in silence, will be remembered by everyone who hears Kanon pokajanen as sung by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir."
Arvo Part has been fascinated by the canon of repentance of the Russian Orthodox Church since first becoming involved in the Church's traditions many years ago, and has returned often to the texts. Authorship of the canon is credited to St Andrew of Crete (c 660 - 740 AD). "It is a song of change and transformation. In the symbolism of the church, it invokes the border between day and night, Old and New Testament, old Adam and new Adam (Christ), prophecy and fulfilment, the here and the hereafter. Applied to a person, it recalls the border between human and divine, weakness and strength, suffering and salvation. In the canon of repentance, the text is devoted to the theme of personal transformation. Repentance appears as a necessary threshold, as a kind of purification on the way to salvation in paradise. The difficulty of following the way is shown by the inner tension between the respective eirmos and the following stanzas, that is, between the praise of the Lord and the lamentation of one's own weakness." [from booklet notes by Marina Bobrik-Fromke].
Previous Part choral compositions Nun eile (1990) and Memento (1994) were earlier attempts to approach the canon. Finally, in response to a commission to write music for the 750th anniversary of Cologne Cathedral, the composer determined to set it in its entirety. "This allowed me to stay with it, to devote myself to it...its hold on me did not abate until I had finished the score....It took over two years to compose the Kanon pokajanen ...That may explain why this music means so much to me. In this composition, as in many of my vocal works, I tried to use language as a point of departure. I wanted the word to be able to find its own sound, to draw its own melodic line. Somewhat to my surprise, the resulting music is entirely immersed in the particular character of Church Slavonic, a language used exclusively in ecclesiastical texts." In his liner notes - this is, incidentally, the first occasion on which the composer has provided a programme text for one of his albums - Part goes on to say that work with the Kanon demonstrated to him the extent to which the language of a given vocal work can shape its form. "The same musical structure, the same treatment of the word, leads to different results depending on the choice of language, as seen on comparing Litany (English) with Kanon pokajanen (Church Slavonic). I used identical, strictly defined rules of composition and yet the outcome is very different in each case."
Kaljuste and his choir have a long history together. In 1971, at the age of 18, Tonu Kaljuste became conductor of the chamber choir Ellerhein, a vocal ensemble founded by his father. Ten years later, the Ellerhein choir became the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. The EPCC's repertoire includes Gregorian chants, music of the baroque era and 20th century works, emphasizing Estonian composers - Tormis, Tuur, and above all, Part, of whose vocal music they are the foremost interpreters.
Kanon pokajanen is the third New Series disc to feature the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir performing Part's work. It follows the critically-lauded Te Deum and Litany.
Part's association with ECM was, of course, initiated with the epochal Tabula Rasa, released in 1984, the record that launched the New Series, established Part as a composer of international importance and set new directions in contemporary music; his New Series recordings have continued to be the authoritative versions. "The new sound I am continually trying to find," said Part at the time of Litany, "is not easy to achieve by just reading the scores. But effort and expense are rewarded with the proper results. And a successful authorized recording has documentary value that can serve as a guide for interpreters to come."
The premiere performance of Kanon pokajanen takes place at Cologne Cathedral on March 17th 1998.
Arvo Part's Kanon Pokajanen is a work of starkly radiant beauty, a deeply felt plea for forgiveness so resonant it seems to bear its own expiatory power. The piece is a choral setting of the Russian Orthodox Church's canon of repentance, believed to have been composed by St. Andrew of Crete sometime in the late seventh century. Part had experimented with the canon in earlier works, but when the Cologne Cathedral commissioned him to compose a choral piece for its 750th anniversary, he took the opportunity to immerse himself in it completely. Over two years of intense quality time with the work, Part produced an 80-minute choral setting of the entire canon which mines each word of the original Church Slavonic (a language used exclusively in ecclesiastical texts) for its maximum musicality and meaning. Part believes language to be more important to a choral work than the music. In the liner notes, he explains that he wants each word "to find its own sound, to draw its own melodic line." The result is a piece that moves slowly and deliberately through the canon, making ample use of the silences between the words. The juxtaposition of the deep bass men's voices with the high soprano women's voices, sung in the dissonant harmonic style of medieval chant, parallels the canon's night and day symbolism. Part's version, performed in an immaculate recording by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, captures the sunrise feeling of a song that is still sung at the break of day in European monestaries. Marina Bobrik-Fromke's liner notes describes it beautifully: "The canon is heard in the nave, barely illuminated by the flickering candles, while the door to the sanctuary still remains closed. As soon as the canon has come to an end, this entrance ...opens. The church is filled with light, signifying the presence of Christ." Asked by an interviewer how best to listen to the piece, Part laughed. "First of all," he said, "Turn off the television." If you're looking for background music, Kanon Pokajanen is not your best choice. This is music to soak in, music to meditate to. Music of searing intensity that finds that part of the soul, so often neglected in today's fast-paced lifestyle, that is starved for reverence, fear, and awe, longing to say "Come out to seek me; lead me up to Thy pasturage and number me among the sheep of Thy chosen flock. Nourish me with them on the grass of Thy Holy Mysteries."
All Music Guide