Arvo Pärt: Swansong

Arvo Pärt Swansong

Arvo Pärt: Swansong

Year of composition:
Scored for:
for orchestra
Arvo Pärt
2 3 3 2 - 4 2 3 0 - timp, perc(2), hp(1-2), str
Instrumentation details:
1st flute
2nd flute
1st oboe
2nd oboe
cor anglais
1st clarinet in Bb
2nd clarinet in Bb
bass clarinet in Bb
1st bassoon
2nd bassoon
1st horn in F
2nd horn in F
3rd horn in F
4th horn in F
1st trumpet in C
2nd trumpet in C
1st trombone
2nd trombone
3rd trombone
1st harp
2nd harp (ad lib.)
violin I
violin II
double bass
Auftragswerk der Internationalen Stiftung Mozarteum Salzburg (UA in Salzburg am 29. Januar 2014 - Mozartwoche 2014)
More Less

The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

Work introduction

Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801– 1890), theologian, poet and thinker, was one of the most influential personalities in the England of his day. To mark the 200th anniversary of his birth, Arvo Pärt set to music one of Newman’s bestknown texts, Littlemore Tractus. Originally conceived as a choral work with organ accompaniment, Swansong, a version for orchestra, was commissioned by the Salzburg Mozart Week 2014.

Revd Canon Bernhard Schunemann, Vicar of St Stephen’s South Dulwich in London (2013), on Littlemore Tractus:

Littlemore Tractus was commissioned first in 1999 so that its first performance in February 2001 would coincide with the 200th anniversary of the birth of the English priest, poet, nineteenth century controversialist and educationalist John Henry Newman (born 21 February 1801 died in August 1890). The words of Littlemore Tractus, originally composed by Arvo Pärt for choir and organ, come from a sermon Newman preached in 1843 in the village of Littlemore entitled: ‘Wisdom and Innocence’, the sermon ends with these much quoted words: “May He support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done! Then in his mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.”

These poetic words have found their way into English prayers, funeral liturgies and they have been translated into many languages. The sermon itself was a meditation on Matthew 10.16 “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye therefore as wise as serpents, and as harmless as doves”, and it talks of the many struggles and tribulations that a Christian must face seeking the truth in a in a hostile world. Newman engaged the romantic imagination of especially young people of his day, and he started the famous ‘Oxford Movement’ which aimed to re-catholicise the Anglican Church. When I commissioned this work from Arvo Pärt it was this aspect of Newman’s effect on his young contemporaries that inspired me. Arvo Pärt with his mould-breaking new style of composing, which I would like to call ‘holy minimalism’, has uniquely engaged a new generation of listeners, crossing the boundaries of the classical, popular and the spiritual. Littlemore was the place where Newman was parish priest in 1845, the time he converted to Roman Catholicism, this conversion scandalised many of his contemporaries but it also contributed to the further emancipation of Roman Catholics in England.

The process of commissioning and composing this almost seven minute anthem took two years. Arvo Pärt wanted to be reassured that the small church of Littlemore now in the City of Oxford had the support of the wider Christian community in this project, I still have the letters of support written by the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Anglican Bishops in Oxford. The compositional process continued right through the week of the first three performances by three different choirs: the choir of St Martin-in-the-Fields, singing in Littlemore Church, the choir of Oriel College, Oxford singing at Oriel and finally the choir of Magdalen College in their chapel. Arvo Pärt stayed with us for a week and made small alterations after each performance. Two memorable recordings have also been released by the Estonian Philharmonic Choir, directed by Paul Hillier and Polyphony conducted by Stephen Layton. In 2010 Newman was beatified on by Pope Benedict XVI on the occasion of his visit to England, increasing Newman’s world-wide appeal.

Special prints


Arvo Pärt: Swansong

full score
for orchestra , 6’
Instr.: 2 3 3 2 - 4 2 3 0 - timp, perc(2), hp(1-2), str


Arvo Pärt: Swansong

study score
for orchestra , 6’
Instr.: 2 3 3 2 - 4 2 3 0 - timp, perc(2), hp(1-2), str

World première

Großes Festspielhaus, Salzburg (AT)
Wiener Philharmoniker
Marc Minkowski

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