Concert recording of Adam's Lament at Nargenfestival, 2.09.2014, St. John's Church, Tallinn. Courtesy of Estonian Public Broadcasting.
Adam's Lament (2010) for mixed choir and string orchestra
One of the most recent large-scale works by Arvo Pärt, Adam’s Lament is based on the Russian prose text of the same title by the monk Silouan the Athonite (1866–1938), taken from the book Staretz Silouan. The book was compiled by Silouan’s disciple, the Archimandrite Sophrony (1896–1993), to whom Pärt has also dedicated this piece. The writings of St Silouan have been a source of inspiration for the composer for decades. Through this poetic text in which Adam laments his betrayal of his Creator and having lost the love of God and Paradise, Pärt speaks about Adam as the forefather of all people.
“For the holy man Silouan of Mount Athos, the name Adam is like a collective term which comprises humankind in its entirety and each individual person alike, irrespective of time, epochs, social strata and confession. But who is this banished Adam? We could say that he is all of us who bear his legacy. And this “Total Adam” has been suffering and lamenting for thousands of years on earth. Adam himself, our primal father, foresaw the human tragedy and experienced it as his personal guilt. He has suffered all human cataclysms, unto the depths of despair.“
[CD Adam’s Lament (ECM, 2012) booklet]
The pervading theme in St Silouan’s writings, love and humility, has also influenced Arvo Pärt’s sense of the world, and we could say that this composition has become one of his main works. The composer had carried its idea in his mind since the late 1980s. It is also significant that the world premiere of Adam’s Lament took place in the capital of Turkey, the intersection of three monotheist religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The composition was commissioned by the two Capitals of Culture, Istanbul 2010 and Tallinn 2011, and the event was a joint performance for these two cities. The premiere took place on 7 June 2010 in Istanbul’s Hagia Irene concert hall within the former cathedral. The performers included the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, the vocal ensemble Vox Clamantis and the chamber setting of the Borusan Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Tõnu Kaljuste, who was awarded a Grammy Award in 2014 for Best Choral Performance for the CD of the first recording of Adam’s Lament (ECM).
Most of the vocal part consists of the text by Silouan as the narrator, mainly performed by the mixed choir. This forms a frame around the central element of the composition, Adam’s monologue, performed by male voices – a lament, a silent prayer, filled with anguish. As in many of Pärt’s other compositions, here too the content and the structure of the text has dictated the course of the music down to the tiniest details. Punctuation marks, the number of syllables and word emphasis all play an important role in the musical composition.