Arvo Pärt: Littlemore Tractus

Arvo Pärt Littlemore Tractus
Littlemore Tractus

Arvo Pärt: Littlemore Tractus

Year of composition:
2000
Scored for:
for mixed choir and organ
Composer:
Arvo Pärt
Text author:
John Henry Newman
Choir:
SATB
Table of contents:
Littlemore Tractus (für gemischten Chor und Orgel)
Commission:
commissioned by the Reverend Bernhard Schünemann, Vicar of Littlemore, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of John Henry Newman’s birth on the 21st February 2001
Duration:
6’
More Less

Audiosamples

Littlemore Tractus
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Work introduction

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.

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

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World première

Location:
Oxford
Date:
21.02.2001
Conductor:
Paul Stubbings

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