Written for the 900th anniversary of the foundation of Norwich Cathedral in 1996, this setting from Chapter 15 of St John’s Gospel shows Pärt at his most controlled. Inspired by the strength and simplicity of the metaphor, Pärt sets up a pattern of notes that is strictly repeated six times throughout the span of the work. Rhythms alter each time, to suit the text, and bass and soprano pedal notes enhance the fourth repetition—but the pitches remain the same, creating a sinuous continuity that Pärt likens to the leaf and branch patterns on oriental carpets. Within this framework of pitches, the vine metaphor is further reinforced by the systematic adding and subtracting of voices. One voice part sings one note, another joins them for the second, another for the third. The pattern is rigorous—1, 2, 3, 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 3, etc—creating a smooth switchback from lower to upper registers. Like a number of Pärt’s pieces which are governed by such compositional conceits, the expressive reality in performance is quite unlike the seemingly bleak prospect on paper. And, as ever, Pärt knows how to fashion the conclusion perfectly.
from notes by Meurig Bowen © 2003