Arvo Pärt, our sins, and Für Alina

Doing research this week, I came across this really wonderful piece from a few years back on the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, in discussing his perhaps best-known piece, Für Alina :

I replied that this suggested another metaphor, because the tintinnabuli style – especially in the simple form in which it exists in “Für Alina” – consists of two lines. The melody, which proceeds mainly in steps up and down the scale, might be compared to a child tentatively walking. The second line underpins each note of the melody with a note from a harmonizing triad (the fundamental chord of Western music) that is positions as close as possible to the note of the melody, but always below. You could imagine this accompaniment to be a mother with her hands outstretched to ensure her toddler doesn’t fall.

Pärt grabbed my own hand with excitement. “This is the whole secret of tintinnabuli,” he exclaimed. “The two lines. One line is who we are, and the other line is who is holding and takes care of us. Sometimes I say – it is not a joke, but also it is as a joke taken – that the melodic line is our reality, our sins. But the other line is forgiving the sins.”