Arvo Pärt: Berlin Mass—24 June 2007

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Conductor: Edmund Beilharz OAM

with Bendigo Chamber Orchestra (leader Jean Lehmann)

When and where

Date: Sunday 24 June 2007
Time: 2:30 pm
Location: Bendigo Town Hall


  • Morley, Farnaby, Wilbye, Byrd, Vautor: English madrigals from 1500s and 1600s —a cappella
  • Tartini: Sinfonie in A (1700s) —orchestra
  • Brahms, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Wolf: German romantic songs from the 1800s —a cappella
  • Arvo Pärt: Berlin Mass (1990) —choir and orchestra


Our program for this concert truly spans the centuries!

Many English madrigals from the Elizabethan period have survived. Some are popular and frequently heard. In this program, Edmund has especially selected some unusual, challenging and less well-known examples. One, Giles Farnaby’s Consture my meaning, with its perplexing spelling of ‘construe’, is strangely chromatic. The melody progresses in semitones, yet stays in brilliantly crafted harmony.

The Italian baroque period was very rich in output and its style very popular today. Vivaldi is one of the world’s most recorded composers. Tartini also lived at this time, and his music is no less delightful.

We don’t normally associate Brahms and other German romantic composers with choir music, but in fact, their choral output was enormous and contributed richly to German culture in the 1800s. Brahms himself conducted a women’s choir. The four pieces in our concert show the range of musical colours and moods from this era.

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt has invented his own meditative musical language, tintinnabuli, which is rather like the chiming of bells. The joyous Berlin Mass was first performed shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is Pärt in a light-hearted mood, encouraging us all to be still within, yet to be enthusiastic and to celebrate.

Tintinnabuli music has a meditative feel because there are constantly shifting harmonies and moods, but only fleeting melodies. Somehow, the mind cannot seem to grasp what is happening in the music, yet we are spellbound. Pärt says ‘I could compare my music to white light which contains all colours. Only a prism can divide the colours and make them appear. This prism could be the spirit of the listener.’

The structure of tintinnabuli music is, actually, quite easy to describe. Two parts (in the Berlin Mass, usually the tenors and sopranos) sing only the notes from the basic chord. The others (altos and basses) sing consecutive notes up or down the scale. Pärt cleverly weaves the music within this structure. The groups move in and out of harmony, alternately ‘blending’ and ‘clashing’. The effect? Well, come and hear for yourself!

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