THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO ARVO PÄRT, edited by Andrew Shenton, contains 10 essays by various scholars on Pärt's music and its reception. Published in 2012, the book covers Pärt's output up to 2010. While some knowledge of music theory is necessary to get the most out of this book, it written for a fairly general, though educated, audience of classical music fans.
This book suffers from an enormous flaw, and that is its lack of coverage of Pärt's music prior to the advent of his "tintinnabuli" style in the mid-1970s. While the tintinnabulli style may have won Pärt the greatest acclaim and following, and his earlier modernist explorations appeal to a considerably smaller crowd, his works of the 1960s feature enormous riches that deserve exploration and commentary in a volume like this. It may well be that Pärt is discouraging discussion of these works, as he now refuses to speak of the Soviet era in interviews, and the ECM label that Pärt considers the source of definitive recordings is not touching these pieces. And the writers for this volume clearly want to stay on Pärt's good side, as the composer attended the conferences that led to this collection.
In the first paper, Immo Mihkelson does talk about Pärt's activity in the 1960s and 1970s. However, this is not a discussion of the music itself, but rather a biographical sketch that mentions only the names of those pieces that led to censure from the Soviet music authorities ("Nekrolog", "Credo"). The interesting revelation in Mihkelson's paper is that Pärt worked as a sound engineer for several years in the 1960s, which surely helped to shape the aesthetic of Pärt's ECM recordings in collaboration with Manfred Eicher.
Two essays here are rooted in music theory. Leopold Brauneiss's "Musical archetypes: the basic elements of the tintinnabuli style" presents the remarkably strict method that Pärt uses to generate works: two voices (a melody voice and a triadic voice) and rhythms based on the accentuation and punctuation of the religious texts he sets. Description of this technique have been published before, but tintinnabuli is still involving and Brauneiss covers some developments appearing in Pärt's recent pieces. Thomas Robinson's "Analysing Pärt" discusses competing ways of describing Pärt's music such as Schenkerian analysis, set theory, etc.
Laura Dolp's "Arvo Pärt in the marketplace" underscores how the worldwide popularity of Pärt's music is not due to the music alone, but to a marketing approach determined mainly by ECM and critics who lumped Pärt together with Gorecki and Tavener as "holy minimalists". Marguerite Bostonia's "Bells as inspiration for tintinnabulation" offers some interesting details on the survival of church bells under the Soviet Union and where Pärt could have heard the sonorities that led to his new musical style.
There are several appendices. One is a "performer's view" of Pärt's music by Andras Peer Kähler. This is followed by short pieces by Pärt on Alfred Schnittke, Heino Eller and the composer's acceptance speeches from prices in 2007 in 2010. Finally, there is a list of Pärt's works up to the date of publication.
Fans of the composer would learn a thing or two from this volume, but I must say that I expected more from a volume in the Cambridge Companion series.