Music for anxious times: Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel”

Posted on: November 5, 2020

“Whatever screen screaming with electoral statistics you’ve just come from, arriving in the sound-world of Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel means instant balm,” ,” writes Peter Dobrin in Thursday’s (11/5) Philadelphia Inquirer. “From its very first bar, it’s an escape in sound. The pianist plays a repeated outline of a major chord. A cellist builds a spare, simple melody upon it. The piano hits a grounding low note once in a while. And that’s pretty much the shape of it. For 10 or 11 minutes in your life, all is well. Nothing else exists. The piece … will sound familiar to many. Written by the Estonian composer in 1978, the music has been used in dozens of films, including the Errol Morris short The Umbrella Man, and in a couch scene from The Simpsons. Stylistically, some of Pärt’s music is influenced by minimalism, but the composer, now 85, has always gone his own way. Spiegel im Spiegel—which exists in various instrumental versions—is among his most popular works.… The source of this calm? There is something reassuring about those three repeated bell-tones…. The cello melody follows a predictable stepwise journey up and down the register…. It feels elemental and comfortable.”