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This volume is long overdue. Although the music of Arvo Pärt has been readily embraced by audiences, listeners and licensees (providing the soundtrack to many Hollywood films and YouTube clips), the Estonian-born composer has yet to enter the academic press. Joining an august catalogue of previous composer and genre companions from CUP, Andrew Shenton’s volume is a persuasive act of stimulation and provocation.

Shenton claims that the book is ‘not aimed at the academic, rather it is written for those who love Pärt’s music and who want to learn more’. It is an admirable declaration and, in the main, the book balances academic nous with approachability. Luckily for those wanting the former, it does not stint on hard graft analysis. If Thomas Robinson’s attempts to interpret Pärt through established analytical modes are deliberately protracted, they are answered by a more unique approach from Leopold Brauneiss. Both, however, demonstrate that Pärt is a law unto himself.

Such exceptionality is hardly surprising given Pärt’s history. And Immo Mihkelson’s introduction to the early Pärt and Jeffers Engelhardt’s look at wider inspiration and impact – embracing Björk, contemporary DJs and the Hilliard Ensemble – provide detailed context for Pärt’s life and works. Marguerite Bostonia’s study of bell traditions is similarly absorbing. Looking at one of the central facets of Pärt’s ‘tintinnabuli’ style, her survey of worldwide campanological traditions offers an obligatory conduit between narrative and analysis.

Occasionally, the book’s rallying cries for Pärt the great alongside Pärt the popular teeter on the defensive. And, in his excellent essay, Robert Sholl brooks no criticism of Pärt’s holy modernism (however astute those critics may be). Clearly the writers behind this strong companion are entirely convinced of Pärt’s power to preach. While, like me, you might retain a little scepticism, others will be converted.

GAVIN PLUMLEY Read the full review on Agora Classica


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