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Following an initiative by Princess Caroline of Monaco/Hannover to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the reign of his Highness, Prince Rainier III of Monaco, composer Arvo Pärt was commissioned to compose a work for choir and orchestra. The finished work, Cantique des degrés, received its premiere on 19 November 1999 during a special service in the Cathedral of Monte-Carlo in the presence of the royal family. It was performed by the Orchestre Philharmonique and the opera choir, both of Monte-Carlo, and conducted by Estonian conductor Tõnu Kaljuste.
Cantique des degrés is based on Psalm 121 - Je lève mes yeux vers la montagne - and sung in Latin. Pärt's setting comprises eight sung verses of the psalm that lead to a final, hymn-like instrumental coda.
The tonalities of the composition progress regularly, ascending stepwise from verse to verse ("cantique des degrés"); but despite this episodic character, the overall mood of the sequences remains consistent. In this way, the two contrasting basic elements of the piece - dynamic motion and balanced repose - are united creating a harmonious whole.