Spiegel im Spiegel (in English: "mirror in the mirror" or "mirrors in the mirror") is a piece of music for piano and violin written by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt in 1978.
Spiegel... is very characteristic of Pärt's tintinnabular style, with one repeating tonic triads and the other moving in diatonic steps. The triads repeat themselves again and again, according to the composer, emulating bells. This style represents the idea of both static sounds and a constant flux which work together to create a minimalistic atmosphere of solitude and meditation.
Tintinnabulation is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers - in my life, my music, my work. In my dark hours, I have the certain feeling that everything outside this one thing has no meaning. The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity. What is it, this one thing, and how do I find my way to it? Traces of this perfect thing appear in many guises - and everything that is unimportant falls away. Tintinnabulation is like this… The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation 1
In this particular piece, the melodic voice of the violin plays F major scales, either ascending or descending and always ending in A, while the piano plays triads and sometimes notes syncopated with the violin.
The title refers to the infinity of images produced by one mirror in front of the other, reflecting back and forth the same light. This constant reflection is emulated in the piano, with triad chords going on and on, and with the melodic lines of the violin, which start with a two-note phrase and grow by one note in every "reflection".
Pärt's style is firmly rooted in his religious beliefs and his music was both inspired by religious imagery and the desire to invoke an atmosphere of introspection, meditation and even sorrow. As such, Spiegel... has no dynamic markings in the music sheet and there is no dramatic tension, as the tonality never changes and the melody always "lands" back on the same note. According to Frances Wilson: "the emotional content comes from introspective atmosphere created by the simplicity and pure sonorities of the music".
Spiegel... was premiered in 1978 in Moscow, with Vladimir Spivakov in the violin, to whom the piece was dedicated. That same year, there were recordings of the piece replacing the violin with a viola, cello, clarinet, horn, double-bass and alto-flute (although separately). It has also been used extensively in the media since the West re-discovered Pärt's work. It was notably used in the trailer for Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity. Alex Ross (as quoted in The Guardian says that his music provides "oases of repose in a technologically oversaturated culture"
Perhaps we are yearning for some kind of rest in a society that is always pushing the concept of having more of everything. Maybe it's the effects of the (musical) silent revolution that Pärt managed to start, not unlike Gandhi, that are now gaining more and more followers. Maybe it's just that music like Spiegel... is so well composed and so well thought that captures perfectly an emotion that filmmakers try to capture in images. Whichever is the case, it's worthy to step back, kick off the shoes, put on some quality earphones and enjoy the dance of two instruments with the surrounding silence that Spiegel im Spiegel provides.
1Arvo Pärt, quoted by Richard E. Rodda in the liner notes for Fratres; I Fiamminghi, The Orchestra of Flanders, Rudolf Werthen. Collected in http://www.arvopart.org