Tintinnabulation


Pärt refers to his current style as "tintinnabuli."1 This can be defined as the application of various inversions of a certain chord. Also, it is a word "which evokes the pealing of bells, the bells' complex but rich sonorous mass of overtones, the gradual unfolding of patterns implicit in the sound itself, and the idea of a sound that is simultaneously static and in flux."2 Pärt explains the term this way:

Tintinnabulation is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers - in my life, my music, my work. In my dark hours, I have the certain feeling that everything outside this one thing has no meaning. The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity. What is it, this one thing, and how do I find my way to it? Traces of this perfect thing appear in many guises - and everything that is unimportant falls away. Tintinnabulation is like this. . . . The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation.3
More specifically, tintinnabulation involves the predominance of a single triad in one or more voices. In a four-voice context, it is likely that two of the voices will sound only notes of a single triad, while the other two voices move in a step-wise fashion. This triad is, in most cases, the tonal center of the piece from which Pärt rarely departs.


©1996 David E. Pinkerton II


1 Ingram Marshall, liner notes for Annum per Annum, Christoph Maria Moosmann, organ, (New Albion NA074CD).
2 Morton and Collins, eds., Contemporary Composers, 729.
3 Richard E. Rodda, liner notes for Arvo Pärt Fratres, I Fiamminghi, The Orchestra of Flanders, Rudolf Werthen, (Telarc CD-80387).