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In 1976 Pärt responded to the death of Benjamin Britten (whom he never met) with the composition of one of his most powerful - and disarmingly simple - works, the "Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten" for strings and tubular bell. Twenty-two years later, he was able to come close to Britten again through a commission from Lancing College to mark their 150th anniversary. Not only was Britten's partner Peter Pears an alumnus of this Sussex school; Britten had also written the Christmas cantata "St Nicolas" for the 100th anniversary, back in 1948. St Nicolas is a patron saint of Lancing, and so Pärt sought a further connection for his commission. He selected three Odes from the Orthodox Prayer Book - one to 'Jesus the Son of God', one to the 'Most Holy Birth-giver of God', and the last to the 'Holy Saint Nicholas' (Britten's titular Saint lacks the 'h').
Each Ode is characteristically solemn, each is statically homophonic, and each builds to a climax prior to the mantra-like repetition of the final entreaty. All is stripped bare at this point: harmonic movement halts, silence becomes as important as sound, and centuries of mysticism are rolled back as Pärt communes with an ancient Orthodox past. (Meurig Bowen)