by Mark Nowakowski
Paul Hillier has managed a rare effort with this text, yet one in keeping with the Oxford Studies of Composers: a musicological survey which is both honest and useful. While in no way a religious book, Hillier’s examination of Pärt’s music and aesthetic approach confronts the composer’s religiosity in an unflinching manner. Where Christian perspective or inspiration is often treated with discomfort or open disdain in many musicological texts, Hillier sees Pärt’s belief system as integral to his creative output.
For those without an extensive background in music, the first four chapters still offer a great deal of general insight into Pärt and his creative approach. Of particular interest is the opening chapter, ‘sounding icons,’ in which Hillier examines Russian iconography and its effect on both religious practice and aesthetic perception. Good background is given into Pärt’s early development and now legendary clashes with Estonian and Soviet Communist authorities. In terms of theory, Hillier seems to put his greatest effort into creating a succinct yet detailed explanation of Pärt’s tintinnabuli technique, as well as its subsequent effect on his later music.
Though the text grows more difficult as it moves along, it can be recommended as a resource for both the scholar and the ambitious musical novice.
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