Music Podcast Notes: Arvo Pärt, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joyce DiDonato, and Others

Arvo Pärt receives an award at the foreign ministry of his native country, Estonia, in 2011. (Estonian Foreign Ministry)

Years ago, I took part in a debate, and the moderator said, “Give me the name of an author who expresses what conservatism is, and don’t say Burke!” I thought of what a reader had written me, years before: “Name one great living composer, and don’t say Pärt!”

They really want to take your cards away, don’t they?

Arvo Pärt is an Estonian composer born in 1935. I understand that he has stopped giving interviews. I think I’ll keep trying, nonetheless. In any case, he is featured in the latest episode of my Music for a While: here.

Pärt admired Benjamin Britten a great deal, and when Britten died in 1976, Pärt wrote Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, for strings and bell (yes, bell). It is an exceptional piece — but typical for Pärt.

What else is on the menu? Mozart, his Clarinet Concerto, or a slice of it. One of Mozart’s many biographers is Paul Johnson, the great British historian and journalist. He says that the Clarinet Concerto is Mozart’s “most perfect piece.”

There is an argument, as I say in the podcast — but the concerto has lots of competition, of course.

I also say that I wonder this: When Mozart laid down his pen, after finishing his Clarinet Concerto, did he think, “Huh, that was a really good one — one for the ages”? Or was it just the latest piece, another entry in the catalogue? I would like to ask him.

What else? I have a couple of samples from Joyce DiDonato, the mezzo-soprano from Kansas. I have written about her steadily for about 15 years now. There is nothing left to say. But I do say this, in a recent review:

Look, she’s one of the greatest singers of all time. Once she is safely retired or dead, no one will doubt it, for a second. Might as well embrace it now. It has been obvious for years.


Finally, some Bach — the favorite aria of a friend of mine (a former singer and a music writer): “Mache dich, mein Herze, rein,” from the St. Matthew Passion. There is certainly nothing higher. And it is good medicine in troubled times, or any times.

Again, the new episode is here.

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