This recording will clear your mind

Arvo Pärt

Arvo Pärt. Pic: Woesinger

Tintinnabular composition – ring a bell?

If so it’s a bell that operates within a triad on the tonic note, accompanied by a melodic voice operating over diatonic scales. Simple, really.

Simple like Speigel im Spiegel.

Even if your commitment to minimalist music begins and ends with the question ‘is that it?’ you’ve likely heard Arvo Pärt’s 1978 composition.

It’s been used in many films and documentaries. Every New Year’s Eve it crops up on the RTE evening news, accompanying a list of the names of the past year’s road traffic victims.

I first heard the piece in full while driving from Dublin to Wexford on a winter’s afternoon in 2007. The full 10-minute performance on radio was a different beast to the clip I’d heard in Touching The Void; I recall pulling over and scribbling down details of the recording.

I wasn’t the only one who had such an experience. Reading an interview with music producer Manfred Eicher last weekend I discovered that he too first heard a classic Pärt composition by chance on a car radio.

Unlike me, as boss of the ECM music label Eicher was able to gather Keith Jarrett and others to make a landmark recording.

I contented myself to seeking out a copy of Alina, the recording Eicher made for his classical imprint, ECM New Series, in 1995 which included Spiegel im Spiegel. I kept the disc for a few years before it disappeared in an apartment move.

Or so I thought. After reading Eicher’s interview last weekend I embarked on a box-ripping quest to find it, digging among crates in storage until I located the stark-sleeved disc, a diamond in the mine. (Unlike most of my old CDs, cassettes and records, the ECM release isn’t available on streaming services.)

The years that passed since I’d heard the piece in full had been busy ones. I’d forgotten the mind-clearing feeling of a deep listen to Pärt’s spare, resonant composition.

I could write more, about stillness, space, the effect of silence and the contrast of piano and violin. But Spiegel im Speigel demands both less and more than this. It’s an experience wrought only by listening.

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One thought on “This recording will clear your mind

  1. Dave Diebold, writerDave says:

    Excellent. Thanks for this.

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