John Stonestreet, Roberto Rivera: Composer Arvo Pärt’s ‘Passio’ Shows Us Art and Faith Intertwined

In 1968, as Warsaw Pact forces invaded and occupied what was then Czechoslovakia, a young composer in another corner of the Soviet empire did something just as provocative.

In Estonia, the composer Arvo Pärt produced a musical piece entitled “Credo.” “Credo” means “I believe” in Latin. “Believe in what?” you ask. “I believe in Jesus Christ” was Pärt’s answer, followed by Matthew 5:38-39, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.”

This kind of open declaration of Christian faith was unacceptable in the USSR. According to Pärt’s biographer, Paul Hilliard, the Soviets saw the “strongly personalized religious declaration” of the title and the text itself as a “gesture of defiance” and a “direct provocation.” So the Soviets promptly banned “Credo.”

Their actions, however, did not end the composer’s career, nor did it dampen his commitment to composing music inspired by his faith. Instead, “Credo” would mark the start of a fifty-year run that has made Pärt the most performed living composer in the world. More importantly, “Credo” also marked a musical and spiritual turning point in his life.

As Hilliard describes, by 1968, Pärt had written himself into a kind of musical cul-de-sac. Up to that point, he utilized thoroughly modern forms of music, such as serialism and collage, in his compositions. Along the way, he’d grown skeptical that “progress in art” was even possible, or at least progress that was in any way analogous to the progress seen in science.

So Pärt began to look back instead of forward for his inspiration, back to “early music”— which for him meant music before Bach. Not coincidentally, it was during this part of his career that Pärt experienced a spiritual awakening. It led him to convert to the Russian Orthodox Church.

With his faith and his art now inseparably intertwined, Pärt began to compose his most powerful works, sacred music for chorus.

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Source: Christian Headlines