I could compare my music to white lightwhich contains all colours. Only a prismcan divide the colours and make them appear;this prism could be the spirit of the listener.- Arvo Pärt
A "prismatic" approach to musical construction in Arvo Pärt’s work was heralded by the writing of "Für Alina" in 1976, a piece for solo piano which announced – quietly, thoughtfully – the arrival of his "tintinnabuli style". Written originally as a gift for a young Estonian girl on her own in London, the work’s modest means give little hint of the soul-searching that preceded its composition. With "Für Alina", Pärt has often said since, he began to find his voice as a composer: "This was the first piece that was on a new plateau. It was here that I discovered the triad series, which I made my simple little guiding rule." Abandoned, with this new beginning, were the experiments with serialism that had marked his work of the 1960s. Composition, for Pärt, had become a process of self-discovery, and his first requirement was clarity. As writer/pianist Susan Bradshaw, one of his earliest Western supporters, put it: "He seems to be trying to avoid any hint of complication for complication’s sake; eschewing musical verbosity above all, he believes that anything that has no properly audible – as opposed to merely textural or cerebral – purpose has no place in his work."
For the recording of this New Series album Pärt – with producer Manfred Eicher, and four exceptional interpreters – returned to the Estonian composer’s epochal, profoundly influential yet resolutely unsensational music of the late 70s. Hermann Conen takes up the story in the CD liner notes: "It is to this period of new departures, to the magic of these new beginnings that the present recording hearkens back, and it does so through transformation. Pärt establishes a link between two works embodying, on a higher level, the fundamental traits of the tintinnabuli style – creating music by concentrating on an indispensable core of material. Now three interpretations of the duet ‘Spiegel im Spiegel’, written in 1978, become formal pillars positioned before, between and after the two solo renderings of ‘Für Alina.’"
In its original form, "Für Alina" is barely two minutes in length, yet the marking in the score "Calm, exalted, listening to one’s inner self" encourages a treatment that takes a more liberal approach to duration. In the presence of the composer, pianist Alexander Malter established a certain approach through variation, repeating the form, painstakingly adjusting phrasing and dynamics in the search for the truest – or most literal – realisation of "tintinnabuli" sound. The piano sound is bell-like, pellucid, almost crystalline, in the extended arcs of variation that Pärt has chosen for this CD.
"Spiegel im Spiegel" has been a much played Pärt piece over the years, recorded also on several occasions. It is good to have, at last, interpretations featuring the work’s dedicatee, Vladimir Spivakov. Readings of "Spiegel im Spiegel" with Spivakov and Sergey Bezrodny open and close the disc. The version of "Spiegel and Spiegel" for cello and piano is played by Dietmar Schwalke with Alexander Malter and set at the centre of the album. Thus the programme itself is symmetrical; a mirror in a mirror, reflecting upon itself.
Herman Conen: "Since ‘Für Alina’, Pärt’s scores have been irradiated with the white light of the pure triad. But here, in this journey to the origins of the style, to perhaps its purest form, its meaning is illuminated in a special way. A system of mirror reflections serves to present the same thing in an ever new light and in its abundance of colours. From this perspective, ‘Spiegel im Spiegel’ is not merely a link in a formal series but itself functions as a musical prism, enabling the colours of ‘Für Alina’ to emerge and shine forth."