ARVO PÄRT– Tabula Rasa

Vectoral Analysis by Diego Barbosa-Vásquez

ARVO PÄRT– Tabula Rasa

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Historical Background

Arvo Part is a great example of the postmodernist style. His work Tabula Rasa, written in 1977, exemplifies the music that started to be composed after huge advances made in the previous 2 thirds of the century. Now, those advances started to be used side by side with previous musical developments (of different centuries) as tools of composition more than rules of styles. In this work, the Estonian composer use resources as tonality, arpeggiation, repetition or prepared piano to achieve his musical desires. In addition, the influence of the prayers and mysterious sounds is easily seen in the repetitive form and the prepared piano.

Overview, Structure, and Texture

The prayer influence of the piece can be seen in its structure, a fact that can be linked to the minimalist style too. The piece is divided in 9 sections, each one with the same principal ideas that are development through the work (from the simple to the complex). Is important to highlight that the section no. 8 have the most energetic point of the work with a series of fast arpeggiations. This is a thematic organization that can be linked with the aurea proportion use in previous styles (classism). In terms of the textures it can be analyzed as polyphonic. The orchestra is based in an homophonic movement where the soloist had their own movements. Is important to stand out that the polyphonic texture is totally different related with serialistic or experiential previous works of the century. In this work the texture is based in different rhythms between voices but with a complete dependency between them as is seen in heterophonic works of the classicism.

Orchestration Techniques

After the period of the huge experiments and advances of orchestrations techniques, this piece has a very basic orchestration technique. String orchestra, two violins as soloist and a prepared piano. However, in this organization some aspects can be highlighted. First, despite the fact of a conventional string orchestra (not many divises as Penderecki or different orchestras as Stockhausen) the orchestra is used in a non-conventional way. The orchestra don't have melodically importance; its use is to create the repetitive pattern. This fact can be confirmed analyzing the voice that have crossings as bar 36 between violin 2 and viola or bar 97 between violin 1,1 and violin 1,2. Second, soloists, where the melodic lines are placed, can be consider very similar to the baroque violin concertos. Here both instruments have the same importance sharing the upper and lower voices and same rhythms, treatments that had stopped to be used in the classicism with clear line 1 and line 2. Third, the prepared piano is an important element with a clear link to cage advances. However, is important to stand out that now the philosophy changed, the goal is not to create new sound is get a result in this case the bell sound.

Basic Techniques

This work has important influences of the minimalistic style, thus the are important elements that creates the piece. First, the concept of tintinnabulation that creates not only the prepared piano but also the treatment of the orchestra. With this element, a repetitive sound of an A is always heard in the piece. Second, and related to the previous, the composer selected a tonality that is treated almost always in its primarily tonic chord 5-3. Just bars 192 to 214 and 216-222 are the places where a different chord is used (vii7 diminished to vii grade). Third, the arpeggiation that is used to create movement into a static movement created by the previous basic technique. Four, the rhythmic development placed in the violins where every entrance of the phrase is different. In addition, the rhythmical patterns based in clear separated places (triplets, sixteenths or eights with sixteenths.)

Vertical Models

As is described above the vertical models are based in the primary chord of the A minor tonic 5-3. There are few moments primarily in the violins soloist where some dissonances can be seen as bar 46, but those are the result more of a sequential treatment in the horizontal movements than a vertical approach.

Horizontal Models

Horizontal movements in this work can be analyzed in three elements. Frist, the most important element to highlight in the horizontal models due to the year is the use of arpeggiation. After years of huge advances of diatonic-chromatic-serialistic-aleatoric movements, Arvo Part wants to return to the basic arpeggiation movement of a triadic organization. Second, the sequenced melodic movement that is placed in the violins to give variety, a horizontal device linked with baroque or classical treatments. With this tool placed for example at bar 70, the composer can move from the basic A 5-3 to others notes. Third, the diatonic slow movement with which the composer ends each section.


This Arvo Part work is a great example of the post-modernism music. Here every musical advance of the previous centuries is used to achieve the special mood that the composer wants to create. However, the minimalism linked to the baroque and classical treatments can be described as the stronger influences to this work.

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