One of the things we will be marking today (25 February) is the 100th anniversary of the independence of Estonia.
This tiny, culturally distinct Northern European country has retained a unique identity through hundreds of years of often violent oppression by their larger neighbours, especially Germany, Russia and the Soviet Union. Freedom for this nation, first gained at the end of WW1, was regained in the now famous ‘singing revolution’, the only completely non-violent breakout from the Soviet empire in the early 1990’s.
The Christian faith of the population, consisting of Lutheran and Orthodox strands, is also distinctive in the sense that the holiness of trees and forests is an integral part of Estonian spirituality. Our choir will sing the Littlemore Tractus by Arvo Pärt today; this composer is not only Estonia’s most famous export, but he is also the inventor of the musical style he himself called ‘tintinnabulism’, which is a kind of spiritual minimalism.
As he himself said: ‘I have found that listening intently to just one single note, like the sound of a bell, is quite enough’. His music was banned in the Soviet Union after writing his first religious piece ‘Credo’.
I commissioned the piece sung today in 2001 to commemorate an anniversary of an English spiritual giant: John Henry Newman, these are his words from the end of one of his sermons:
“May He support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done! Then in his mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.”
25 February 2018