Blog / Solace and Order

Solace and Order

Posted on 6 Feb 2019 by Bernard Rofe

Photography by Amiel Courtin-Wilson
Photo credit Amiel Courtin-Wilson


Dive deeper into the music from Arvo Pärt & JS Bach. This concert program excerpt written by the ACO’s librarian Bernard Rofe uncovers the structure and spiritualism found within the transcendent musical journey of this concert.

Where the soul finds solace, the mind seeks order. So it is in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and Arvo Pärt: below the holy minimalism and reaching to God is a compelling sense of structure and order. Bach’s masterpieces exemplify his rigorous, meticulous counterpoint, his mastery of strict canon and fugue, and a sense of structure and balance within even the largest of his musical constructions. Pärt, who turned to Bach and early music after years of grappling with Socialist Realism and experiments with serialism, has a similar fascination with predetermined schemes and musical processes. At a basic level, his style, known as “tintinnabuli”, derived from the Latin word for “bell”, sets one voice moving stepwise against a second voice moving in triads. Simple, archaic and arrestingly beautiful, his music is heavily process driven and meticulously structured.


As you experience this concert, the structure of these works by Bach and Pärt will speak to you in different ways. At a purely meditational level, the quiet undulations of Pärt’s Da pacem Domine set a mood of reflective calm that never really goes away as a series of vocal motets and mantra-like chants lulls you into a state of otherworldly peace and clarity.


Perhaps you will sense the journey: from darkness to light, from the physical world to the spiritual, from uncertainness to understanding and transcendence. Pärt’s Da pacem Domine is sombre, calling for peace in our troubled times. Bach’s Komm, Jesu, komm calls out to Christ with weary, waning strength, uncertain of its way, but prepared to find a path to life. Pärt’s Summa, an instrumental version of his 1977 setting of the Credo, reaffirms one’s beliefs, and in Bach’s Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied we find God’s understanding and glory.


After the second half of the concert begins with an overture of Pärt’s Toccata, we leave the material world, and the music begins to shine with spiritedness in Bach’s Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden and Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf. The spirit ultimately becomes the focus in these motets, as Galina Grigorjeva’s In Paradisum breaks through the clouds and into the ethereal.


Those with religious inclinations will notice there are subtle ties to the Requiem and Pentecostal Mass: Da pacem Domine, composed in memory of the victims of the 2004 Madrid train bombings, may be considered an introit. Summa, being a setting of the Credo, is one of the fundamental sections of the Mass ordinary. As in Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem, Grigorjeva’s In Paradisum continues the spirit’s journey into heaven, and interspersed between these are the funerary motets of Bach, singing in praise of God and of conviction in the face of death. Peter Sculthorpe’s setting of the Aboriginal melody Djilile invokes the sacred spirit of Australia, while Pärt’s Berliner Messe, a Pentecostal Mass composed for Catholics Day celebrations in 1990, is the culmination and summation of what will be akin to a religious experience for many listeners.


This concert is a union of Lutheran motets, Orthodox chants, Aboriginal melody and a Catholic mass, but one need not be religiously inclined to achieve spiritual transcendence through this sequence of works. We all seek solace and order in an uncertain world, and with music like this, we just might find it.

Our national tour of Arvo Pärt & JS Bach continues its performances in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. Click below for final tickets on sale now.