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Back out of all this now too much for us,
Back in a time made simple by the loss
Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
Like graveyard marble sculpture in the
There is a house that is no more a house
Upon a farm that is no more a farm
And in a town that is no more a town.
The road there, if you’ll let a guide direct you
Who only has at heart your getting lost,
May seem as if it should have been a
Great monolithic knees the former town
Long since gave up pretense of keeping
And there’s a story in a book about it:
Besides the wear of iron wagon wheels
The ledges show lines ruled southeast-
The chisel work of an enormous Glacier
That braced his feet against the Arctic Pole.
You must not mind a certain coolness from
Still said to haunt this side of Panther Mountain.
Nor need you mind the serial ordeal
Of being watched from forty cellar holes
As if by eye pairs out of forty firkins.
As for the woods’ excitement over you
That sends light rustle rushes to their leaves,
Charge that to upstart inexperience.
Where were they all not twenty years ago?
They think too much of having shaded out
A few old pecker-fretted apple trees.
Make yourself up a cheering song of how
Someone’s road home from work this once
Who may be just ahead of you on foot
Or creaking with a buggy load of grain.
The height of the adventure is the height
Of country where two village cultures faded
Into each other. Both of them are lost.
And if you’re lost enough to find yourself
By now, pull in your ladder road behind you
And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.
Then make yourself at home. The only field
Now left’s no bigger than a harness gall.
First there’s the children’s house of
Some shattered dishes underneath a pine,
The playthings in the playhouse of the
Weep for what little things could make
Then for the house that is no more a house,
But only a belilaced cellar hole,
Now slowly closing like a dent in dough.
This was no playhouse but a house in
Your destination and your destiny’s
A brook that was the water of the house,
Cold as a spring as yet so near its source,
Too lofty and original to rage.
(We know the valley streams that when
Will leave their tatters hung on barb and
I have kept hidden in the instep arch
Of an old cedar at the waterside
A broken drinking goblet like the Grail
Under a spell so the wrong ones can’t find it,
So can’t get saved, as Saint Mark says
(I stole the goblet from the children’s
Here are your waters and your watering
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.
“Directive,” from the book, THE POETRY OF ROBERT FROST edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1947, 1969 by Henry Holt and Company. Copyright 1975 by Lesley Frost Ballantine. Reprinted by permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
The Opening of Eyes
That day I saw beneath dark clouds
the passing light over the water
and I heard the voice of the world speak out,
I knew then, as I had before
life is no passing memory of what has been
nor the remaining pages in a great book
waiting to be read.
It is the opening of eyes long closed.
It is the vision of far off things
seen for the silence they hold.
It is the heart after years
of secret conversing
speaking out loud in the clear air.
It is Moses in the desert
fallen to his knees before the lit bush.
It is the man throwing away his shoes
as if to enter heaven
and finding himself astonished,
opened at last,
fallen in love with solid ground.
– David Whyte
from Songs for Coming Home
©1984 Many Rivers Press
with thanks to “The Opening of Eyes“
Rivers of Life covers evolution and natural selection processes that have made life on Earth as we know it today, and also covers mass extinction events such as asteroid impacts with our planet that have drastically altered the course and progress of life.
Since the first organisms appeared on Earth approximately 3.8 billion years ago, life on the planet has had some close calls. In the last 500 million years, Earth has undergone five mass extinctions, including the event 66 million years ago that wiped out the dinosaurs. And while most scientists agree that a giant asteroid was responsible for that extinction, there’s much less consensus on what caused an even more devastating extinction, the end-Permian extinction, that occurred 252.2 million years ago, decimating 90 percent of marine and terrestrial species, from snails and small crustaceans to early forms of lizards and amphibians.
“The Great Dying,” as it’s now known, was the most severe mass extinction in Earth’s history, and is probably the closest life has come to being completely extinguished. Possible causes include immense volcanic eruptions, rapid depletion of oxygen in the oceans, and — an unlikely option — an asteroid collision.
While the causes of this global catastrophe are unknown, an MIT-led team of researchers established in that the end-Permian extinction was extremely rapid, triggering massive die-outs both in the oceans and on land in less than 20,000 years — the blink of an eye in geologic time. The MIT team also found that this time period coincides with a massive buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which likely triggered the simultaneous collapse of species in the oceans and on land.
“We’ve got the extinction nailed in absolute time and duration,” says Sam Bowring, the Robert R. Shrock Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at MIT. “How do you kill 96 percent of everything that lived in the oceans in tens of thousands of years? It could be that an exceptional extinction requires an exceptional explanation.”
The research team at MIT has determined that the end-Permian extinction occurred over 60,000 years, give or take 48,000 years — practically instantaneous, from a geologic perspective. The new timescale is based on more precise dating techniques, and indicates that the most severe extinction in history may have happened more than 10 times faster than scientists had previously thought.
In addition to establishing the extinction’s duration, Bowring, graduate student Seth Burgess, and a colleague from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology also found that, 10,000 years before the die-off, , the oceans experienced a pulse of light carbon, which likely reflects a massive addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This dramatic change may have led to widespread ocean acidification and increased sea temperatures by 10 degrees Celsius or more, killing the majority of sea life.
But what originally triggered the spike in carbon dioxide? The leading theory among geologists and paleontologists has to do with widespread, long-lasting volcanic eruptions from the Siberian Traps, a region of Russia whose steplike hills are a result of repeated eruptions of magma. To determine whether eruptions from the Siberian Traps triggered a massive increase in oceanic carbon dioxide, Burgess and Bowring are using similar dating techniques to establish a timescale for the Permian period’s volcanic eruptions that are estimated to have covered over five million cubic kilometers.
“It is clear that whatever triggered extinction must have acted very quickly,” says Burgess, the lead author of a paper that reports the results in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “fast enough to destabilize the biosphere before the majority of plant and animal life had time to adapt in an effort to survive.”
In 2006, Bowring and his students made a trip to Meishan, China, a region whose rock formations bear evidence of the end-Permian extinction; geochronologists and paleontologists have flocked to the area to look for clues in its layers of sedimentary rock. In particular, scientists have focused on a section of rock that is thought to delineate the end of the Permian, and the beginning of the Triassic, based on evidence such as the number of fossils found in surrounding rock layers.
Bowring sampled rocks from this area (above), as well as from nearby alternating layers of volcanic ash beds and fossil-bearing rocks. After analyzing the rocks in the lab, his team reported in 2011 that the end-Permian likely lasted less than 200,000 years. However, this timeframe still wasn’t precise enough to draw any conclusions about what caused the extinction.
Now, the team has revised its estimates using more accurate dating techniques based on a better understanding of uncertainties in timescale measurements.
With this knowledge, Bowring and his colleagues reanalyzed rock samples collected from five volcanic ash beds at the Permian-Triassic boundary. The researchers pulverized rocks and separated out tiny zircon crystals containing a mix of uranium and lead. They then isolated uranium from lead, and measured the ratios of both isotopes to determine the age of each rock sample.
From their measurements, the researchers determined a much more precise “age model” for the end-Permian extinction, which now appears to have lasted about 60,000 years — with an uncertainty of 48,000 years — and was immediately preceded by a sharp increase in carbon dioxide in the oceans.
The new timeline adds weight to the theory that the extinction was triggered by massive volcanic eruptions from the Siberian Traps that released volatile chemicals, including carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere and oceans. With such a short extinction timeline, Bowring says it is possible that a single, catastrophic pulse of magmatic activity triggered an almost instantaneous collapse of all global ecosystems.
Andrew Knoll, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at Harvard University, says the group’s refined timeline will give scientists an opportunity to test whether the timing of the Siberian Traps eruptions coincides with the extinction.
“Most mechanisms proposed to account for the observed pattern of extinction rely on rapid environmental change, so the sharp constraints on timing also serve as tests of these ideas,” Knoll says. “[This new timeline] bring us closer to the resolution of a major problem posed by the geologic record.”
To confirm whether the Siberian Traps are indeed the extinction’s smoking gun, Burgess and Bowring plan to determine an equally precise timeline for the Siberian Traps eruptions, and will compare it to the new extinction timeline to see where the two events overlap. The researchers will investigate additional areas in China to see if the duration of the extinction can be even more precisely determined.
“We’ve refined our approach, and now we have higher accuracy and precision,” Bowring says. “You can think of it as slowly spiraling in toward the truth.”
The Daily Galaxy via MIT
Image credit: With thanks to gadabimacreative
‘Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey’ –Episode 3 In-Depth Review
In Episode 3, The Ship of the Imagination opens in the brooding, frigid realm of the Oort Cloud, where a trillion comets wait, taking us on a hair-raising ride, following Halley’s comet through its million-year plunge towards the Sun.
Halley’s comet was spotted by the ancient Greeks, based on accounts by ancient authors. In his work Meteorology, Aristotle wrote about the event about a century after it occurred. He said that around the same time the meteorite fell, “a comet was visible in the west.” Aristotle, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great, concluded that comets were some kind of emission from Earth that rose into the sky. The heavens, he maintained, were perfect and orderly; a phenomenon as unexpected and erratic as a comet surely could not be part of the celestial vault.
According to ancient writers, a large meteorite smacked into northern Greece between 466 BC and 467 BC. The writers also described a comet in the sky at the time the meteorite fell to Earth, but this detail has received little attention, say the researchers. Halley’s Comet would have been visible for about 80 days in 466 BC, researchers write in the Journal of Cosmology. New Scientist magazine writes that, until now, the earliest probable sighting of the comet was an orbit in 240BC, an event recorded by Chinese astronomers.If the new findings are confirmed, the researchers will have pushed back the date of the first observation of Comet Halley by 226 years.
The space rock fell during daylight hours and was about the size of “a wagon load”, according to ancient sources. The object, described as having a “burnt colour”, became a tourist attraction for more than 500 years.
Astronomer Eric Hintz and philosopher Daniel Graham, both of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, reconstructed the likely path of Halley’s comet and calculated that Halley’s comet could have been visible for about 80 days between early June and late August in 466BC – depending on atmospheric conditions and the darkness of the sky.
“It’s tough going back that far in time. It’s not like an eclipse, which is really predictable,” co-author Eric Hintz, from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, told BBC News.
In the 11th Century, Halley’s Comet was depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry. The reconstruction of the comet’s path agrees with the ancient reports, which say the comet was visible for about 75 days.
The researchers point out that while the Chinese and Babylonians kept meticulous records of heavenly phenomena for centuries, the ancient Greeks did not. The Greek accounts, howevee, do provide important information, say Graham and Hintz, such as the comet’s period of visibility from Earth.
Asked whether it was possible that the meteorite fall and the pass by Halley’s Comet could be linked, Dr Hintz was doubtful. “Tt would be really neat if they were connected – if it was a piece of Halley’s that fell. My feeling is that it was just a really cool coincidence,” said Dr Hintz.
The researchers say that there remains the possibility that other ancient sightings of comets could be uncovered from Chinese and Babylonian records.
In 1910, Halleys comet’s flyby of Earth was especially close and, thanks to extensive newspaper coverage, eagerly awaited by the general public. In fact, Earth’s orbit carried it through the end of the comet’s 24-million-mile-long tail for six hours on May 19, earning the story the day’s banner headline in The New York Times.
While most reporters turned to astronomers to get the facts straight, the yellow press helped fuel the fears that the end of the world was imminent -that the comet’s tail contained poisonous cyanide gases, and there was danger of a celestial collision with Earth.
In 1910 that spectroscopic studies of comet tails conducted by Sir William Huggins revealed that among the organic molecules found in comets was the gas cyanide. As the Earth was then expected to travel through the tail of Comet Halley, speculation ran riot that people would be asphyxiated by the cyanide molecules.
Gunter Faure and Teresa Mensing note what happened in their textbook Introduction to Planetary Science: The Geological Perspective:
“During the night of May 18/19 of 1910, when the Earth passed through the tail of comet Halley, some people took precautions by sealing the chimneys, windows, and doors of their houses. Others confessed to crimes they had committed because they did not expect to survive the night, and a few panic-stricken people actually committed suicide. Enterprising merchants sold comet pills and oxygen bottles, church services were held for overflow crowds, and people in the countryside took to their storm shelters. A strangely frivolous mood caused thousands of people to gather in restaurants, coffee houses, parks, and on the rooftops of apartment buildings to await their doom in the company of fellow humans.”
But the Earth survived unscathed, passing through only a small part of the comet’s tail. A more substantial passage through a comet’s tail had also occurred in 1861 without incident
More recently, some scientists speculate that our sun may have a stealth companion that disturbs comets from the edge of the solar system — a giant planet with up to four times the mass of Jupiter, researchers suggest in the distant icy realm of the comet-birthing Oort cloud, which surrounds our solar system with billions of icy objects. The potential giant Jupiter would likely be a world so frigid it is difficult to spot, researchers said. It could be found up to 30,000 astronomical units from the sun. One AU is the distance between the Earth and the sun, about 93 million miles.
The giant planet is hidden in our Solar System according to scientists John Matese and Daniel Whitmire, from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. According to the team, a colossus called Tyche is hidden in the Oort Cloud—the asteroid beehive that forms the outer shell of our home system, one light-year in radius. They claim that data already captured by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer proves its existence.
Matese and Whitmire are convinced that Tyche composed mostly of hydrogen and helium is very real orbiting 15,000 times farther from the Sun than Earth, orbiting the Sun with moons and rings and an athmosphere with clouds and storm systems similar to Jupiter with a mild temperature (-73ºC/-99.4ºF).
If Tyche’s existence is confirmed, its Solar System planet status may not be debated that Tyche could be a planet born in another star system and captured by ours.
Many of the most well known comets, including Halley, Hale-Bopp and, most recently, McNaught, may have been born in orbit around other stars, according to a theory developed by an international team of astronomers in 2010 led by a scientist from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. The team used computer simulations to show that the Sun may have captured small icy bodies from its sibling stars while it was in its birth star cluster, creating a reservoir for observed comets.
While the Sun currently has no companion stars, it is believed to have formed in a cluster containing hundreds of closely packed stars that were embedded in a dense cloud of gas. During this time, each star formed a large number of small comets in a disk from which planets formed. Most of these comets were gravitationally slung out of these prenatal planetary systems by the newly forming giant planets, becoming tiny, free-floating members of the cluster.
The Sun’s cluster came to a violent end, however, when its gas was blown out by the hottest young stars. These new models show that the Sun then gravitationally captured a large cloud of comets as the cluster dispersed.
“When it was young, the Sun shared a lot of spit with its siblings, and we can see that stuff today,” says Dr. Hal Levison of the Southwest Research Institute.
Evidence for the team’s scenario came from the roughly spherical cloud of comets, known as the Oort cloud, that surrounds the Sun, extending halfway to the nearest star. It has been commonly assumed this cloud formed from the Sun’s proto-planetary disk. However, because detailed models show that comets from the solar system produce a much more anemic cloud than observed, another source is required.
“If we assume that the Sun’s observed proto-planetary disk can be used to estimate the indigenous population of the Oort cloud,” Levison says, “we can conclude that more than 90 percent of the observed Oort cloud comets have an extra-solar origin.”
“The formation of the Oort cloud has been a mystery for over 60 years and our work likely solves this long-standing problem,” says Brasser.
Just how safe is the Earth from a major comet impact event? Jupiter may hold the answer. On 1994 July 16-22, over twenty fragments of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 collided with the planet Jupiter. The comet, discovered the previous year by astronomers Carolyn and Eugene Shoemaker and David Levy, was observed by astronomers at hundreds of observatories around the world as it crashed into Jupiter’s southern hemisphere. During July, 2010 a comet or asteroid ripped another Pacific-Ocean sized hole in Jupiter (image below). Is Jupiter a giant protective magnet for Earth, or are these events wake-up calls similar to Friday’s meteor explosion over Russia’s Ural Mountains?
As Stephen Hawking says, the general consensus is that any comet or asteroid greater than 20 kilometers in diameter that strikes the Earth will result in the complete annihilation of complex life – animals and higher plants. (The asteroid Vesta, for example, one of the destinations of the Dawn Mission, is the size of Arizona).
Since 1941 many astronomers have thought of Jupiter as a protective big brother for planet Earth -a celestial shield, deflecting asteroids and comets away from the inner Solar System. This long-standing belief that Jupiter acts as a celestial shield, deflecting asteroids and comets away from the inner Solar System, has been challenged by the first in a series of studies evaluating the impact risk to the Earth posed by different groups of object.
Dr Jonathan Horner of Great Britain’s Open University has studied the impact hazard posed to Earth by the Centaurs, the parent population of the Jupiter Family of comets. His research showed that the presence of a Jupiter-like planet in the Solar System does not necessarily lead to a lower impact rate at the Earth. Horner said that Jupiter’s role as guardian may have been overstated: “It seems that the idea isn’t so clear-cut.”
The idea of Jupiter as protector was first proposed by planetary scientist George Wetherill in 1941. Wetherill showed that the planet’s enormous mass — more than 300 times that of the Earth — is enough to catapult comets that might hit Earth, like a slingshot ,out of the Solar System.
Other astronomers have postulated that Jupiter’s gravitational pull would thin the crowd of dangerous asteroids and other objects, making Earth less impact prone. Other research has suggested that, in the past, changes in Jupiter’s orbit might have actually increased the number of objects on a collision course with earth. Until now, Horner says, little work was done to test either idea.
The short period Jupiter Family of Comets (JFCs) are believed to originate from the Kuiper Belt and have orbital periods of up to 20 years and low inclination controlled by Jupiter. The Kuiper Belt is a large reservoir of small icy bodies just beyond Neptune. From collisions or gravitational perturbations some Kuiper Belt objects escape and fall towards the Sun. When they approach the Sun their volatile elements will start to sublimate off the surface and we will see the object as a comet. Because the orbit crosses that of Jupiter, the comet will have gravitational interactions with this massive gas giant. The objects orbit will gradually change from these interactions and eventually the object will either be thrown out of the Solar System or collide with a planet or the Sun.
The second class of comets, the long periods, are believed to originate from the Oort cloud. This is a vast spherical reservoir believed to exist at the edge of the Solar System. The long period comets have periods of less than 200 years and no preference in orbital inclination.
“The idea that a Jupiter-like planet plays an important role in lessening the impact risk on potentially habitable planets is a common belief but there has only really been one study done on this in the past, which looked at the hazard due to the Long Period Comets,” Horner continued.” We are carrying out an ongoing series of studies of the impact risks in planetary systems, starting off by looking at our own Solar System, since we know the most about it.”
Horner and colleague Barrie Jones built several versions of the Solar System on the Open University’s computers: one with a Jupiter, one without, and several with a gas giant that was either a quarter, half, or three-quarters of Jupiter’s mass. The system also contained 100,000 centaurs — large, icy bodies from the Solar System’s Kuiper belt, within which Pluto lies.
After running their models for 10 million virtual years, Horner and Jones found some striking results:The Earth was about 30% more likely to be hit by a centaur in a Solar System with a life-size Jupiter than it was in a Jupiter-less system.
“We’ve found that if a planet about the mass of Saturn or a bit larger occupied Jupiter’s place,” Horner concluded, “then the number of impacts on Earth would increase. However if nothing was there at all, there wouldn’t be any difference from our current impact rate. Rather than it being a clear cut case that Jupiter acts as a shield, it seems that Jupiter almost gives with one hand and takes away with the other!”
The weakness of Horner’s tentative conclusion is that it fails to take into account Jupiter’s ability to deflect Earth-colliding objects from the Oort cloud, a massive cloud of comets that surrounds the Solar System
The Open University team is assessing the impact risk posed to the Earth by the asteroids and will go on to study the long period comets, before examining the role of the position of Jupiter within our system.
The fact that life appeared soon after the termination of the heavy bombardment about 3.8 billion years ago suggests that it seems reasonable that incoming comets and asteroids delivered the compounds essential for life.
The 2005 Deep Impact mission to Comet Tempel 1 discovered a mixture of organic and clay particles inside the comet that show it is overwhelmingly likely that life began in space, according to resaerch by Cardiff University scientists, professor Chandra Wickramasinghe and colleagues at the University’s Center for Astrobiology.
One theory for the origins of life proposes that clay particles acted as a catalyst, converting simple organic molecules into more complex structures. The 2004 Stardust Mission to Comet Wild 2 found a range of complex hydrocarbon molecules – potential building blocks for life.
The Cardiff team proposes the controversial theory that radioactive elements can keep water in liquid form in comet interiors for millions of years, making them potentially ideal “incubators” for early life. They also point out that the billions of comets in our solar system and across the galaxy contain far more clay than the early Earth did. The researchers calculate the odds of life starting on Earth rather than inside a comet at one trillion trillion (10 to the power of 24) to one against.
Professor Wickramasinghe said: “The findings of the comet missions, which surprised many, strengthen the argument for panspermia. We now have a mechanism for how it could have happened. All the necessary elements – clay, organic molecules and water – are there. The longer time scale and the greater mass of comets make it overwhelmingly more likely that life began in space than on earth.”
In his essay, Extraterrestrials: A Modern View, University of Washington professor Guillermo Gonzalez wrote: “The kind of origin of life theory a scientist holds seems to depend on his/her field of specialty: oceanographers like to think it began in a deep sea thermal vent, biochemists like Stanley Miller prefer a warm tidal pool on the Earth’s surface, astronomers insist that comets played an essential role by delivering complex molecules, and scientists who write science fiction part time imagine that the Earth was “seeded” by interstellar microbes.”
But Stephen Hawking asks “How many times in our galaxy alone has life finally evolved to the equivalent of our planets and animals on some far distant planet, only to be utterly destroyed by an impact?” Galactic history suggests it might be a common occurrence. Our cold comfort comes from the adjective “galactic” -that’s a hugely different time perspective that our biblical three score and ten.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in me, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me,
Christ with me.
Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine secundum verbum tuum in pace
quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum
quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum
lumen ad revelationem gentium et gloriam plebis tuae Israhel
De profundis clamavi ad te Domine: Domine exaudi vocem meam. Fiant aures tuae intendentes in vocem deprecationis meae. Si iniquitates observaveris Domine: Domine quis sustinebit. Quia apud te propitiatio est: et propter legem tuam sustinui te Domine. Sustinuit anima mea in verbo ejus: speravit anima mea in Domino. A custodia matutina usque ad noctem, speret Israel in Domino. Quia apud Dominum misericordia: et copiosa apud eum redemptio. Et Ipse redimet Israel ex omnibus iniquitatibus ejus.
Out of the depths I have cried to thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. Let thy ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication. If thou, O Lord, wilt mark iniquities: Lord, who shall stand it. For with thee there is merciful forgiveness: and by reason of thy law, I have waited for thee, O Lord. My soul hath relied on his word.
My first encounter with Arvo Pärt’s music is indelibly etched on my consciousness. My piano teacher – the late Susan Bradshaw – placed a piece in front of me which, from a visual point of view alone, was immediately intriguing. Consisting of just two pages, what was most striking about the music was its utter simplicity: there was no time signature; no changes of tempo, key or dynamics; no textural variation. Playing through this quiet piano miniature I was dumbstruck by its crystalline beauty. The piece was Pärt’s Für Alina. I was hooked.
This was 25 years ago when I was an undergraduate at Goldsmiths, University of London. Pärt at that time was virtually unknown in the West. Since then, he has become one of the most widely performed, recorded and fêted contemporary composers, one of a select few who make their living solely through composition.
The difficulty that Simon Broughton faced when trying to get Pärt to talk about his music on camera chimes entirely with my own experience when I came to write my PhD on the composer. I had the good fortune of meeting Pärt several times during my research, including the slightly terrifying experience of giving a paper on his Credo in the composer’s presence at the Royal Academy of Music. One particularly memorable afternoon was spent with Arvo and his wife, Nora, at the Orthodox Monastery of St John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex (the Pärts owned a property a short drive away). While Pärt was perfectly happy to answer my questions about his work list, which pieces had been withdrawn for revision, and so on, he responded to questions about his music by giving me Archimandrite Sophrony’s weighty hardback tome, Saint Silouan the Athonite. “If you want to understand my music,” he told me, “read this.” The music, you inferred, must speak for itself.
Born on 11 September 1935 in Paide, Estonia, Pärt studied composition at the Tallinn Conservatory under the influential teacher Heino Eller. Although best known for the works he has composed since the unveiling of the “tintinnabuli” style, announced in 1976 by Für Alina, Pärt had already become something of an enfant terrible in Soviet musical circles during the 1960s. The darkly expressive orchestral piece Nekrolog (1960), Pärt’s first mature work, caused a scandal by being the first Estonian work to employ serialism, incurring the wrath of no less a person than the all-powerful head of the Soviet Composers’ Union, Tikhon Khrennikov. Not a man to be trifled with.
Using other avant-garde techniques such as pointillism and aleatoricism, Pärt wrote further experimental works including Perpetuum Mobile (1963), Symphony No 1 (1964), Diagrams (1964) and Musica Sillabica (1964) in which extremes of dynamics and texture at times reach cumulative points of such intensity that the music seems to be on the verge of complete collapse.
Becoming dissatisfied with serial technique, Pärt searched for another means of furthering his musical development, resulting in his use of “borrowed” tonal gestures and the adoption of baroque and classical forms, such as the comic finality of the musical catch phrase which brings Quintettino (1964) to an ambivalent conclusion; the grotesque distortion of Bach’s Sarabande from English Suite No 6 in the central movement of Collage on B-A-C-H (1964); and the ironic cadenza and grandiloquent tonal conclusion of the cello concerto Pro et Contra (1966).
The remarkable Credo (1968), which represented both the culmination of his early style and the first work in which he set a religious text, is a pivotal work in Pärt’s output. Scored for piano, chorus and orchestra, the two outer sections are based on a pristine C major tonality – specifically the C major Prelude from Book I of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier – while the central triptych journeys into chaos and a wild, improvised climax. An exhilarating cri de coeur of a piece, the composer’s musical affirmation of faith (“Credo in Jesum Christum”) ensured that the work was banned in the Soviet Union following its first performance.
Following Credo, Pärt reached a creative impasse and underwent a dramatic reorientation of style. The impulse for this change was twofold, springing on the one hand from an inner musical necessity brought about by his encounter with plainchant and other early music, and on the other by his gradual religious awakening (originally Lutheran, Pärt converted to the Russian Orthodox Church). Rather than appropriate the stylistic conventions of past composers, his compositional concerns now became directed towards a very specific goal: the setting of religious texts. It was no longer enough to simply import tonality by wearing a Bachian stylistic mask as he had done in Credo.
The surprising richness of the work’s closingGratiarum Actio is one of the most transcendent passages of 20th-century sacred music
While the techniques and processes of early music have proved to be a continuing source of fascination and inspiration for many contemporary composers – Louis Andriessen, Peter Maxwell Davies and Steve Reich all readily spring to mind – no other composer has made such a profound study of this music, and with such fruitful results, as Pärt. Aside from the importance of specific models from early music, Pärt’s in-depth exploration compelled him to rebuild his musical language from scratch. Anything that had no properly audible, as opposed to merely textural, purpose no longer had a place in his work.
Tabula Rasa. Cartoon portrait by Heinz Valg (1978)
To uncover what he considered to be the startling power of unadorned melody, Pärt wrote reams of technical exercises using just a single line of music. Apart from its innate inner strength, what impressed the composer most about plainchant was its cohesiveness, its clarity and its flexibility. From working with just a single line of music, Pärt then began to investigate the potential of using two voices, before intuitively discovering the simple two-part unit that was to become the basis of the tintinnabuli style: a generally step-wise melodic line accompanied by a triadic or “tintinnabuli” harmony (tintinnabulum literally means “small bell”). Subtly varied from work to work – the composer determining the rules of the game for each piece – the tintinnabuli style has proved extremely flexible.
An outpouring of works followed in 1977 – something of anannus mirabilis for Pärt – including three of the most enduring works of the new style: the seemingly endless melodic descents of Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten; the punctilious melodic elaborations of the double violin concertoTabula Rasa; and the startling gesturelessness of Fratres.
The most perfect realisation of the tintinnabuli style came with the St John Passion (1977-82). Wishing to act merely as a vessel for the music, Pärt decided from the very beginning that the Passion text would yield the entire substance of the work. Setting the text syllabically throughout, every single phrase structure, note value and caesura between phrases is governed entirely by the punctuation of the text. The result is a work of profound restraint, at once both detached and deeply affecting. The surprising richness of the work’s closing Gratiarum Actio – a final offering of praise and thanks which is heard in its entirety in the forthcoming episode ofSacred Music – is one of the most transcendent passages of 20th-century sacred music.
From the troubled angst of Credo to the celestial atemporality of the St John Passion, Pärt’s has been one of contemporary music’s most fascinating journeys
Pärt has remarked that it is the nature of the language being set that predetermines to a remarkable degree the specific character of each vocal piece. From working predominantly with Latin texts, his many commissions have seen him setting Italian in Dopo la vittoria (1996), Spanish in the psalm setting Como cierva sedienta (1998), and numerous settings in English. The latter include the stylised invocations and responses of Litany (1994), a return to St John’s Gospel for I Am the True Vine (1996), and The Deer’s Cry (2007), a setting in English of St Patrick’s Breastplate (“Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me…”). Of especial significance is Pärt’s setting of Church Slavonic, a language used exclusively in ecclesiastical texts, in the imposing Kanon Pokajanen (1997). As evidenced by the extract of the piece heard in Sacred Music, its sound-world appears to place it within the illustrious tradition of Russian Orthodox Church music. What all of these works vividly illustrate is the way in which the tintinnabuli style can absorb new textural and harmonic approaches.
From the troubled angst of Credo to the celestial atemporality of the St John Passion, Pärt’s has been one of contemporary music’s most fascinating journeys.
Three essential recordings
Pärt’s music has been incredibly well served on disc, notably by ECM New Series, to the extent that his ever-increasing discography has become difficult to keep up with. The following three recordings, however, are essential.
Tabula Rasa (ECM New Series)
Three purely instrumental classics of the tintinnabuli style: Fratres, Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten and Tabula Rasa. Find on Amazon
Passio (ECM New Series)
Pärt’s austere masterpiece, conducted by one of his foremost interpreters, Paul Hillier. Find on Amazon
Kanon Pokajanen (ECM New Series)
A stunning performance of the Canon of Repentance by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. Find on Amazon
Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North
This Country your Valour, this Country is yours
Farewell to the mountains high cover’d with snow;
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below;
My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer -
A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe;
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.
Farewell to the Forrests and wild-hanging woods;
Farwell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.
My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer
Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe;
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.
Beyond Sochi: Photos Of Russia By Russians
by GRANT SLATER
Marina, an insemination technician, and Lyuba, a milkmaid, pose for a portrait on a dairy farm south of St. Petersburg, near the road to Moscow. Sergey Maximishin, St. Petersburg
The gap between how foreigners view Russia and how Russians view themselves is wide and as old as the country itself.
Russian photographer Valeriy Klamm felt that foreign photojournalists who came to work in his country arrive with the pictures they want to send back home already in their head: Bleak images of a cold and desolate place where autocrats lord over drunks.
“They already know how to take pictures of Russia, and that’s how they arrive,” Klamm said. “It’s always a wild country that’s in some kind of difficult transition period.”
Klamm, himself, had never photographed much outside of his home city of Novosibirsk, where nearly 2 million people live on the banks of the Ob River in the middle of Siberia.
A meeting of Cossacks in Nizhny Tagil, a town in the Ural Mountains. Fyodor Telkov, Yekaterinburg
On Trinity Day in the village of Biysk in Altai, grass and birch branches are brought inside to decorate an Orthodox Church. Valeriy Klamm, Novosibirsk
An eighth-grade student plays in a pick-up soccer match with her girlfriends in the Mari El Republic between the Russian cities of Kazan and Nizhny Novgorod. Fyodor Telkov, Yekaterinburg
A man places reindeer antlers on a shrine in the Murmansk region, a peninsula in the Arctic north of St. Petersburg where he and others keep herds of reindeer. Alexander Stepanenko, Murmansk
But in 2000, he started to visit these small towns, camera in hand. He began to ask his photographer friends, both foreign and local, to share images of simple life the rural Russian villages that dot the vast expanse from Europe to the Pacific Ocean.
And in 2009, Klamm started “Birthmarks on the Map,” a collective photo project and website that collects these images in one place. He began to ask his photographer friends, both foreign and local, to share images of simple life in the rural Russian villages and small towns that dot the vast expanse from Europe to the Pacific Ocean.
Meyram Moldakimov takes care of a water pump facility in a village near Novosibirsk and washes under this pipe twice a week, no matter what the weather. Valerik Klamm, Novosibirsk
A celebratory dinner for a funeral in Altai, a region that borders Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China. Igor Lagunov, Magnitigorsk
Swimmers enjoy a thermal spring with water that contains radon, a radioactive element. The locals revere the spring near the Mongolian border in Altai for its healing powers. Valeriy Klamm, Novosibirsk
A Cossack practices tricks on his horse in the Rostov region near Russia’s border with Ukraine in 2010. Misha Maslennikov, Moscow
“Life in the middle of nowhere has always been difficult,” he said. “But I see dignity in the difficulties of these people on the outskirts of our geography. Their patience and simple wisdom gives strength and hope. And this stuff is always necessary to mankind.”
Klamm wanted to fill his site with images of real Russia life, and the result is something closer to ethnography or anthropology than journalism. Klamm actually works with ethnographers who study these small communities to find untold stories.
More than 60 photographers, both award-winning professionals and hobbyists, have contributed. One photographer is a dentist with a massive collection of classic film cameras that he takes to the villages around his city, like Rossiyka, in his spare time:
A boy named Zahar sits on an old car in a village called Rossiyka near Krasnoyarsk. Alexander Kustov, Krasnoyarsk
Over the past five years, Klamm has relied on this loose collective to build a massive collection of imagery that depicts a Russia you won’t see when you turn on the closing ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics this Saturday.
A kitten loves on an old woman in the Cossack village of Velikopetrovskaya near Cheliyabinsk.