Arvo Part- Kanon Pokajanen

Published on 1 Feb 2014

0:00 – Ode I
7:32 – Ode III
19:16 – Ode IV
26:28 – Ode V
34:28 – Ode VI
42:46 – Kondakion
45:08 – Ikos
48:06 – Ode VII
55:19 – Ode VIII
1:04:03 – Ode IX
1:12:17 – Prayer After the Canon

The “Canon of Repentance”, an a cappella SATB choral work by Estonian composer Arvo Part, is a masterpiece of minimalism, choral music and sacred music. Part’s spiritual influence is often present, but not always as obviously as it is in this piece. The text is an Orthodox hymn sung in Church Slavonic. The composition was completed in the year 1997, after a lengthy writing process. Despite being minimalistic and repetitive, the music is complex and deep, and despite being written almost in the 21st century, it draws a lot of influence from pre-Renaissance chant music.

The composer himself states the following regarding this piece: “Many years ago, when I first became involved in the tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church, I came across a text that made a profound impression on me although I cannot have understood it at the time. It was the Canon of Repentance. Since then I have often returned these verses, slowly and arduously seeking to unfold their meaning. Two choral compositions (Nun eile ich…., 1990 and Memento, 1994) were the first attempts to approach the canon. I then decided to set it to music in its entirety-from beginning to end. This allowed me to stay with it, to devote myself to it; and, at the very least, its hold on me did not abate until I had finished the score. I had a similar experience while working on Passio. It took over two years to compose the Kanon pokajanen, and the time “we spent together” was extremely enriching. That may explain why this music means so much to me.”

The second ode is omitted, as is traditional in settings of the text, which is why the movements “jump” from Ode I to Ode III. The Kondakion and Ikos are different in mood, style and harmony from the Odes, thus acting as movements of contrast, serving as Intermezzi before the themes of the Odes return. The piece culminates in the “Prayer after the Canon”, the most dramatic movement with the greatest buildup. The crystalline “Amen, Amen” that finally closes the 83-minute affair is haunting in its clarity.

In this ECM New Series recording, Tonu Kaljuste and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir provide the world premiere recording of the piece and currently the only complete recording of the piece. The recording can be purchased on Amazon here-


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