Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten

The lack of updates recently is mostly due to the fact that I’ve had too much on my mind as well as a mild writer’s block. But hopefully I’ll be back on track now.

We have this class called “The Foundation of the Artistic Knowledge” (or something similar) and it is a bit… special. We have to write a small essay every week regarding a different topic and then hold a presentation based on that essay. Our first task was to listen to a piece of classical music that we knew nothing about beforehand and then read two different texts regarding this piece of music. Then we had to compare the two texts and write about it. It may sound simple… but let me tell you, it wasn’t!

I decided to listen to, and write about, “Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten” by Arvo Pärt. I’ve heard a few pieces by Pärt previously and I’ve liked what I’ve heard, but I can’t say that I am well versed in his music. I found a recording of the piece easily enough… but finding two texts regarding the piece proved to be a tougher task.

After having searched the net far and wide I finally found two texts that at least held some substance and could begin to listen, compare and write.

I will not post my essay here, since that will mean translating all of it into English… and I am too lazy to do that. But I will write a little about the piece of music itself.

“Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten” is, in my opinion, a fantastic piece of music. Arvo Pärt has used the simplest means possible to achieve something that is very complex and hauntingly beautiful.

The piece is written in memory of the composer Benjamin Britten and is Arvo Pärt’s tribute to his music. According to the texts that I read both composers were/are fans of very simplistic and “pure” music and “Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten” is a -very- good example of what that means.

The piece begins with a bell ringing out three times and then the instruments (violins, violas, cellos and contrabass) begin to play an a-minor scale moving downwards. The thing is though that all the instruments play different note values and when they’re all playing together it creates a sort of canon and the cluster effect is very impressive. It may sound discordant at times, but that only adds to the general atmosphere of grief and mourning that surrounds the whole piece.

I am very impressed that it is possible to create something that sounds so complex but in reality is based on such a basic thing as the a-minor scale. I am truly in love with this piece and I recommend all of you to really listen to it and take it all in. Hopefully you’ll be as taken with its beauty as I was.


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