The Kennedy Center

I am the true vine

About the Work

Arvo Pärt Composer: Arvo Pärt
© James Potter

In his setting of one of the most important passages from the Gospel of John, I am the true vine, Arvo Pärt eschews micro-expression of the text, preferring to present it in as it were a beautiful frame. The central metaphor of the text - Christ as the vine in which all must abide - is expressed in the form of the piece itself. Like much of the composer's work, it follows a rigid compositional process, though manages to avoid drawing too much attention to its mathematical qualities. In this case, a succession of notes is repeated six times. The voices pass these notes between them, building up chords according to a strict pattern - 1 voice, then 2, 3, 3, 2, 1. The effect is that the text is always in motion, passing from voice to voice, yet with each voice inhabiting - or 'abiding in' - the same pitches. As a result, the piece has the qualities of stasis and timelessness which characterise the composer's finest music, and reflect that quality of faith which former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has described as 'silent waiting on the truth, pure sitting and breathing in the presence of the question mark'.