"For [Estonian composer Arvo] Pärt, silence will always be as important as sound. When the violinists Gidon Kremer and Tatjana Grindenko first looked at the score of Tabula Rasa, they were mystified by the virtually empty pages—vast stretches of white upon which were notated a seemingly scarce number of notes. Tabula Rasa appears to ask more questions than it answers: How does the imagination fill in the gaps during those profound moments of quiet? How do we train our minds (Pärt would say, our souls) to resist the distractions of the outside world and simply luxuriate in those silences?
"Recently, I have begun listening to Tabula Rasa at night, while lying in bed, the glow of my iPod screen lasting only a few seconds before I am immersed in near darkness—this is when the piece begins to work its magic. Prominent is the prepared piano, with metal screws placed behind the instrument’s dampers, so that it sounds otherworldly, almost like the Indonesian gamelan. In the second movement, titled “Silentium,” the prepared piano regularly plays an eerie rising arpeggio, as the stringed instruments sing a melody of almost hypnotic simplicity. As the movement progresses, that arpeggio is heard more and more infrequently, to the point where I am anxious—desperate even—for those notes to sound, and relieved when they finally do. This music reminds me of many things: a vibrant winter’s sunset, the starry cosmos, birds flitting across an empty, frozen plain. Ultimately, however, none of these metaphors will suffice. This music simply is. It’s the thing in itself.
"At the end of Tabula Rasa, after the final whispered notes in the double basses, the music continues to play in my head, in the silence and the darkness, too alive a thing to die. The violins still circle each other, taking flight, floating, and descending, with the haunting chimes of the prepared piano still resonant in my head, as well. There is sadness here, there is beauty, there is relief from the violence and pain of the earthly world. And this is the illusion cast by Pärt’s music: the present moment of our lives becomes wonderfully ephemeral. Only the music extends into eternity."