Interlude: The Other Haydn at the Side of the Road

In 1783, Mozart visited Salzburg with his wife Constanze. While there, he dropped in to see his good friend, Haydn, who was in trouble. Haydn had a commission due for the Archbishop–a set of six duos for violin and viola. Four were already completed, but Haydn had taken ill and was unable to complete the set. Picking up his friend’s quill, Mozart wrote the final two duos for him (taking no credit on the autograph score for his work). This was not Joseph Haydn, safe and healthy back home in Vienna. This composer was Michael Haydn, Joseph’s younger brother.

Today, the music of Joseph Haydn remains extremely popular across the Western world. I would venture to guess that not a single season passes at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall without dozens of Joseph’s works being presented. And yet Michael Haydn’s music–held in near equal esteem during their lifetimes–has fallen into neglect and obscurity.

Why is this? For one, while Joseph readily published his compositions–his oratorio, The Creation was a particular hit–Michael refused to publish his works. So while Mozart frequently wrote to his father requesting copies of Michael’s latest compositions (more on that Conversation to come), the lack of available scores led unsurprisingly to his music being forgotten after his death. It also didn’t help that while Joseph was in Vienna, teaching Beethoven and mentoring Mozart, Michael remained in Salzburg, a relative backwater.

I am not really a fan of Joseph Haydn’s music, but I do have a soft spot for Michael’s. As did Mozart–perhaps to an unseemly degree. Mozart’s “37th” symphony, K. 444, turns out to be little more than Micahel Haydn’s 25th (Mozart wrote the brief opening Adagio and tinkered a bit with the score). There is no better complement I can think of than to say that one of Michael Haydn’s compositions was, for more than a century, believed to be the work of one of the greatest composers of all time.

The history, such as it is, of “Mozart’s 37th Symphony” is somewhat unsatisfying. It appears that Mozart had studied the score of Haydn’s 25th Symphony during his stay in Salzburg, tinkering, as was his wont, with the instrumentation and orchestration. It appears that he carried this study back with him to Vienna. On the way, the Mozarts stoped in the town of Linz, where he was received by the local aristocracy and commanded to give a symphonic performance. Mozart, however, had no scores with him, save the odd studies he had made during his time in Salzburg. From these, he–in four days, thank you very much–created his 36th Symphony (the “Linz” Symphony) and appears to have composed a short intro for his study of Haydn’s 25th and passed it off as his 37th. Needs must and all.

Here, both are presented for your consideration. First, Haydn’s original version; then, second, the “Mozart” version, which has a bit over a minute of original Mozart composition at the start, which is followed (starting at 1:24 in the below) with a slightly edited version of Haydn’s original.

The other Haydn deserves his day in the sun.

Michael Haydn, Symphony No. 25 in G Major

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Symphony No. 37 in G Major

Haydn: The Symphonies and The Creation

“Papa” Haydn earned his sobriquet for his generousity with his students. But it could equally refer to his status as the Father of the Symphony and the Father of the String Quartet.

Haydn was already well-established when Mozart came on the scene; he died six decades later during his student Beethoven’s second period.  In between, he wrote more than 100 symphonies–again, more than Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, combined.  And yes, some poor soul has ranked all of them:

https://www.classicfm.com/composers/haydn/guides/definitive-ranking-haydn-symphonies/

It is important to recall that Haydn’s orchestras were much closer to the proto-orchestras of the Baroque than the massive bands unleashed by Mahler at the dawn of the 20th century. Through these smaller orchestras, Haydn weaved compositions that became among the most sought after of the age. His fame oustripped Mozart’s. Schumann, Wagner and Brahms all held Haydn in great regard–perhaps more so than his now more celebrated contemporaries. I will confess: I don’t get it. Yes, we can hear the first strains of romantic sturm und drang in some of Haydn’s work. And his development of musical forms opened doors for his students to march through. He’s important–no question–but, in the end, not really for me.

Let his music provide the counterargument. Here are two of his best: the finale of his 49th (“The Passion”) and first movement of his 104th (“The London”).

Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony No. 49 in F. Minor, “Passion”, IV. Finale, Presto:

Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony No. 104 in D Major “The London”, I. Adagio-Allegro:

In 1795, Haydn abruptly stopped composing symphonies. Instead, he turned his larger scale ambitions to choral works–two massive oratorios and six masses would be completed before his death in 1809. It is entirely likely that Haydn’s late turn to choral music was inspired by his trip to London, one of his few foreign adventures, where he attended multiple performances of Handel’s works.

The first of these works was The Creation, a massive oratorio that reveived its first public performance in 1799. It is widely considered to be Haydn’s crowning achievement. Starting in Chaos, Haydn’s score works its way through the six days of Creation, followed by the emergence of Adam and Eve. Ever the happy optimist, Haydn ends the story there, with a chorus of praise for God–leaving Satan’s corruption, the explusion from Eden, and Abel’s murder for another day.

There is a lot to like here. Haydn amplifies the drama, especially with a massive C-major chord, delivered at maximum volume, to signifiy the creation of light (at 7:15 in the below). Haydn also uses unsettling harmonics to evoke emotional responses in his audience. But, perhaps the most important development here is how Haydn effectively uses music to convey through sound a world that is visual. Beethoven would attempt something similar in his Pastoral Symphony; Mendelssohn would master this technique some decades on.

Mozart remarked: “Haydn alone has the secret both of making me smile and touching my innermost soul.” Who am I to argue?

Franz Joseph Haydn, The Creation

Haydn: Chamber Music

Haydn is the Father of the String Quartet. He did not compose the first one, however. That honor likely goes to Alessandro Scarlatti, who composed six works called Sonata a Quattro per Due Violini, Violette e Violoncello, senza Cemballo (i.e., a quartet comprised of 2 violins, 1 viola and 1 cello, without keyboard). While Haydn may not have invented the format, he was the first to master the form. And he was prolific–his 68 quartets number more than Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert managed, combined.

The string quartet was a perfect vehicle for the emerging Classical homophonic style. Typically led by the first violin, which Haydn used to establish the tonal center of the composition, the other instruments, playing in lower registers, were used to provide harmonic support. While Haydn’s early quartets vested responsibility for melody with the first violin, Haydn soon began giving the other voices a crack at melodic development. This technique of passing the melody around the band would find its most dramatic home in symphonic works–the sharing of melody would become a hallmark of the Classical style, all thanks to Haydn.

Haydn relied increasingly on the sonata form in the first movement of his quartets. In short, the sonata form presents the theme in an exposition section, develops the theme by exploring its harmonic possibilities in a development section, before restating itself, more or less intact, in a final recapitulation section. As the sonata form was typically found in fast–or allegro–movements, the form is frequently referred to as “sonata-allegro”.

Following a slow movement and a movement based on dance forms (such as a minuet or scherzo), the final movement would recap the theme in a dramatic way. Haydn relied on a vast array of forms in his final movements, including fugue and rondo (a form of theme and variation). Invariably, these final movements are the ones that catch my ear.

Here are two of my favorites.  First, the last movement of his Op. 20, No. 5, proving that the fugue was not completely dead in the classical period.  Second, a later work, the finale of his “Rider” Quartet:

Franz Joseph Haydn, String Quartet Op. 20, No. 5 “Sun”, IV. Finale, Fugue:

Franz Joseph Haydn, String Quartet in G minor, Op. 74, No. 3, “The Rider”, IV. Finale, Allegro:

Classical Period I: Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Haydn was not the first classical composer. As noted last week, Bach’s son, CPE Bach, Antonio Salieri, and Christoph Gluck, among many, many others, pioneered the slow movement away from the Baroque. Some of these efforts were well underway prior to 1750 and some of these early classical composers–Salieri in particular–continued to soldier on into the 19th century. Some (like Salieri) were important teachers, but there is a reason that their music is seldom performed: What came afterwards was just so much better.

Franz Joseph Haydn is not one of my favorite composers. But his contribution to music history is undeniable. Remembered as the Father of the Symphony is evidence enough. But he also pretty much did the same thing for the string quartet, the backbone of classical chamber music and the format that supercharged post-war jazz. His students also went on to great success–both Mozart and Beethoven studied (the first informally, the second formally) with Haydn. For these reasons, we remember this very prolific composers (108 symphonies, over 200 chamber music compositions, 20 operas, 14 masses, 6 oratorios and the list keeps going) as “Papa” Haydn.

There can be no denying that Papa Haydn was a man of his age–the Age of Enlightenment. His character comes down to us as a man of generous and kind spirt, a natural optimist. His music reflects this core Enlightenment balance between intellect and emotion. Haydn’s music only ever gets so dark; the emotional highs are similarly muted. If I could sum up Haydn’s soundcape in a picture, it would certainly be this:

Fragonard, The Swing

Much like I do Fragonard, I find Haydn’s music altogether a bit too too. But there is no doubting Haydn’s skill–his development of themes, original modulations and carefully arranged orchestrations laid the foundation upon which the temples of Mozart and Beethoven would be built. And those temples still reside at the summit of muic history.

Let’s begin with my favorite Haydn work, the first movement of his Trumpet Concerto in E-Flat, which strongly recalls Handel’s Trumpet Concertos we heard earlier.  Perhaps a minor Conversation here. Once again, we turn to the great Maurice Andre, who lends his golden tone to one of the classic melodic lines in music history.

Franz Joseph Haydn, Trumpet Concerto in E-Flat, Allegro:

Interlude: Transitional Figures at the Side of the Road

From time to time, I’ve gone back to highlight the work of composers who have been (un)fairly (depending on your point of view) neglected in this history. Today, I am pausing to recognize the important work of a group of 18th century composers who between, roughly, the 1740s and 1770s were part of the so-called “rococo” movement. While rococo might be seen as late-Baroque in most artistic forms, in music, it is the revolutionary bridge that paved the way for the Classical Period.

Bach’s son, CPE Bach, was instrumental (if you will pardon the pun) in developing this new style in Germany, while Francois Couperin in France and Antonio Salieri (first in Italy, then in Vienna) quickly embraced this new “gallant” style. These composers, stretched across Europe, began rejecting polyphony and embracing a more homophonic structure that more or less would carry Western music through to the 20th century. This isn’t to say that counterpoint was dead–far from it. But Western music, going forward, would be vested in a melodic line supported by a harmony comprised of an underlying chordal structure.

Abandoning polyphonic texture in favor of a single melodic line with accompaniment allowed composers to focus more on coloration, dynamics and phrasing. Rhythms also became more defined during this period, as opening fanfares and funeral marches further helped to define tone and color in music. Nowhere are these changes more evident than in the operas of Christoph Willibald Gluck. Gluck, one of the most successful composers of his age, created crowd-pleasing spectacles by cutting away polyphonic layers (so characteristic of Bach oratorios) and focusing instead on harmonic modulation to convey dramatic changes in, and the emotional content of, the story. And that, in fact, is Gluck’s most important contribution to the opera genre. In Baroque opera, the story was chosen to support the music. Gluck flipped this paradigm on its head: Gluck’s music supports and reflects the drama on stage. This emerging Germanic view of opera, which would reach its apex with Richard Wagner in the following century, would ultimately prevail.

Opening fanfare? Clean melodic lines supported by a chordal structure? Music written to support the drama?

Behold, the glory of the Classical.

Christoph Willibald Gluck, Iphigenie en Tauride

While I always like to present opera visually, I have to recommend this recent recording–available on all streaming services–which really brings Gluck’s music to life.

Introduction to the Classical Period

It is a gross simplification to say that Bach died, the Baroque Period ended, and the Classical Period was born.  Some scholars place the start of the Classical Period some years before the death of Bach; some don’t start it until 1775 or so.  For me (and I’d venture for most musicologists), the Classical Period begins in 1750.  As with the Baroque, the Classical Period evolved out of a greater movement within the arts and culture generally—this was, after all, the Age of Enlightenment.  As with the Renaissance, the arts again turned to the classical world of ancient Greece and Rome for inspiration.  But there was a critical difference this time around:  In the Renaissance, the Church had held dominion over the lives of all Europeans; since that time, the Reformation had taken permanent hold across most of Northern Europe, the Church had stopped being the major patron of the arts, and, accordingly, artists were now free to explore (as philosophers were) the humanist aspects of antiquity.

I am not going to tread on what is truly the Professor’s home ground here, but it is I think fair to say that Enlightenment scholars began to objectify the individual within the context of a universal ideal that connected everyone to the broader sense of what it means to be human.  These universal ideals were expressed through objective truths and were discovered, not through religious texts, but through reason and logic.  This is where the idea of “natural rights” was born. 

Classical artists also strove to cast off the excesses of the Baroque, restoring order to their aesthetic and prizing balance and elegance.  These ideas permeated the fine arts—I can think of no better examples than the Roman sculptor Antonio Canova:

Antonio Canova, Reclining Naiad
Antonio Canova, Cupid and Psyche

Or the works of the French painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres:

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, The Grande Baigneuse

The other important development, particularly for music, was the rise of an educated middle class, who wanted music in their homes and lives as much as they wanted revolutions in their streets. The public music festival began in the Classical Period.  Children of the middle class were given music lessons (and the familiar refrain of “[insert child name], practice your damn [insert instrument]” therefore likely began here too).  Concert halls arose in size and elegance previously afforded only to opera halls.  And these new patrons didn’t want Bach’s “stuffy,” “old fashioned,” and “complex” music.  They wanted their music to be simpler and more accessible. Today’s pop music is merely a continuation of classical composers’ efforts to move from polyphonic composition to composition based on the relationship between melody and an underlying chordal structure.

To that end, classical composers abandoned the use of the basso continuo, the basic, continuous bass line that had served as both the rhythmic and harmonic foundation of all Baroque music, replacing specific bass lines that worked in harmony with the melody.  Exploiting Equal Temperament, later Classical composers changed keys within works with increasing frequency, matched only by increased variation in tempo and dynamics. 

Music composed during the Classical Period is notable for its simplicity, consciously rejecting the complex machinations of Bach.  The harmonic structure of music therefore was limited to a smaller set of chords, with the vast majority of music being composed with the familiar 1-4-5 chord structure that continues to animate rock music today.  How to identify those harmonics?  Let’s look at a much more recent, and basic, example:

The Troggs, Wild Thing

And before The Professor can wave his hand dismissively at the use of only three chords, let’s see what the old 1-4-5 can do in the hands of a real master—Beethoven. Check out the beginning of the final movement of his Fifth Symphony. That our Beethoven: Ludwig van Ramone.

Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67: IV. Allegro:

Classical composers were also obsessed with musical balance in all aspects of their works and it was this sense of balance that allowed listeners to anticipate exactly where the composer was going.  That isn’t to say that that the Classical Period was a retreat from the high water mark set by Bach.  To the contrary, the Classical Period gave birth to the most important vehicle for the exploration of music theory—the symphony.  While the modern symphony grew out of the Baroque concerto grosso, it was the composer Carl Stamitz, who created the first true symphonic compositions.  They weren’t very good, but the idea caught fire.  The symphony presented composers with the opportunity of playing around with a very basic tune—not unlike what John Colatrane or the Greatful Dead would become renowned for two centuries later.  Religion had dominated and driven the development of music right through to the last final glorious chord of the B-Minor Mass.  Going forward, the composer’s intellect would be king and the symphony provided the grandest of all pallets upon which to allow his thoughts to develop.  The symphony is abstract art at its highest form—something that would remain untested in the other arts for more than 100 years.

Changes in technology also had a profound effect on the Classical sound.  The harpsichord began its slow decline into obscurity, replaced by the piano, which was to become the dominant instrument for composition.  Woodwinds took on greater prominence, joining the large string sections and horns to form the true prototype for the modern orchestra.

The roll call of Classical Period composers remains the backbone of most concert halls and ensembles today: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, the members of the so-called First Viennese School. The music produced by these four composers, especially Beethoven, were the first to achieve enduring popularity, so much so that the entire genre of formal music is now colloquially called “classical”.

The Baroque Legacy

I love Baroque music. So too do many great musicians of our age. Jimmy Hendrix once talked about being visited by Handel in a dream. (Oh to have been a fly on the wall for that Conversation!) Prog rock artists from ELP to Jethro Tull, Genesis and others take inspiration (and, at times, license) from Baroque compositions. But no band so fully embodied the aesthetics of the Baroque as Yes, ground zero for where my taste in popular music intersects with The Professor’s. Admittedly, it might be a stretch to call Yes’ musical output “popular”, but for ease of categorization I use only three musical genres: formal, popular and jazz, which remains, unfortunately, neither formal nor popular.

But I digress.  Yes’ music is so interesting because they draw from such a wide range of influences.  Jon Anderson (Sibelius, Stravinsky, Greig) and Steve Howe (Dowland, Vivaldi, Bach) are responsible for many of my favorite Yes compositions. Bill Bruford was influenced by the complex rhythms in Bartok’s music, while Rick Wakeman incorporates dozens of composers, from the Renaissance through to the present day into his compositions (Bach, Brahms and Prokofiev being notable presences in his music).  But in the end, their music is decidedly Baroque in character: big, loud and over the top.

Awaken, from their 1977 album Going for the One, is one of Yes’ very best compositions and the one that shows their debt to Baroque composers most clearly.  Wakeman played a church organ on the track, which was recorded live in a small church in Switzerland near where the band was recording the album. There is a full choral part, as well as a harp.  But this is just window dressing.  The Baroque DNA comes out in the composition: The band cycles through the circle of fifths twice and the climaxes and modulations are straight out of the Handel playbook. 

The Baroque endures.

Yes, Awaken:

A Conversation Without End

Bach is the beginning and end of all music.

Max Reger

I had no idea of the historical evolution of the civilized world’s music and had not realized that all modern music owes everything to Bach.

Niccolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Bach is a colossus of Rhodes, beneath whom all musicians pass and will continue to pass. Mozart is the most beautiful, Rossini the most brilliant, but Bach is the most comprehensive: he has said all there is to say. If all the music written since Bach’s time should be lost, it could be reconstructed on the foundation which Bach laid.

Charles Gounod

As difficult as it was to do justice to the works of J.S. Bach in these pages, so too is it difficult to even scratch the surface of his monumental legacy. Bach did more than take the Baroque Period to the grave with him; his influence is ubiquitous in all music that follows. His legacy is everywhere, omnipresent, even if we don’t always recognize it. Mozart studied his scores; so too did Beethoven (a MAJOR Conversation to come). His music was a profound influence on Debussy and Schoenberg and, through them, his influence was amplified through jazz, pop, and the formal music of today.

This blog cannot begin to reckon with such a legacy. Instead, I have compiled a playlist that tries to show, in a limited and incomplete way, how Bach’s music remains with us, right up to that hit song from the other day.

Credo in unum Deum

The gnawing fear I have about trying to sum up the life’s work of history’s most important composers is the certainty that I have left something very important out. But, at least with Bach, I have no such concerns because up today is Bach’s titanic Mass in B minor. I am not even going to attempt to analyze this music (or the numerology puzzles hidden in the Credo section). If you are interested in learning more, this is a great place to start your study: https://ahistoryofmusic.files.wordpress.com/2022/05/6c560-bachmassinbminorguide.pdf.

Bach wrote a lot of spiritual music for the church and every one of the great oratorios presented previously was done so on commission from a church (or church leader) or otherwise in hopes of securing a position with a church (or church leader). In contrast, the Mass in B minor was written for posterity, that is, for us. Largely unknown to audiences for generations, the B Minor Mass was finally published in 1845. Until then, it existed only as rumor–the greatest work by the greatest composer ever to live. Beethoven searched in vain for a copy, dying long before its eventual publication. Part of the reason for it remaining in obscurity for nearly 100 years after its completion is likely the monumental length, which makes the B Minor Mass makes it unsuitable for actual liturgical use, either in a Lutheran or Roman Catholic setting.

So why would such a deeply religious man like Bach write a mass that was unsuited for liturgical purposes? Bach was, I think, getting at something deeper here–the unification of his religious and musical creeds. In the B Minor Mass, Bach sums up music history to date, seamlessly combining forms, techniques and musical sensibilities from across the ages, all wrapped up in the absolute apex of Baroque sound. Bach also recycles many of his best known themes here, reworking them in new ways. For example, the opening of the Kyrie section recalls the opening of the St. John Passion, discussed here a few weeks ago, while the final Kyrie harkens back to Renaissance polyphony. Bach studied Palestrina’s scores and you can hear the old Roman master’s voice echoing through Bach at various points in the B Minor Mass, distilled and amplified through Baroque instrumental counterpoint. But the source material is largely Bach himself. Much of the Sanctus comes from the Christmas Oratorio, while the Agnus Dei recalls part of the Ascention Oratorio. Bach’s Concerto in A Minor and the Contrapunctus X from The Art of the Fugue also make appearances here. I’m sure there are many others.

In the B Minor Mass, Bach fuses academic musicology, devoute Lutheran faith, and glorious sound. You might say that we really didn’t need to listen to anything that came before—ab uno disce omnes. This is the ultimate Conversation–Bach, having a conversation with himself and so many of the great composers that predated him. For me, the B Minor Mass is the greatest single work of music ever composed. It is more that simply one of my Desert Island Discs: It is the whole Island.

I can think of no better way to spend the better part of two hours than listening to Bach’s ultimate summation work. The finale of the mass, a prayer for peace—Dona nobis pacem—was among the last things Bach ever composed. It is so absolutely and completely perfect—I like to imagine that Bach simply laid down is quill and called it a day on this Earth. And, in fact, that’s exactly where I will leave Bach after 12 weeks here, taking his body, mind, and the entire Baroque Period to the grave.

Credo in unum Deum.

J.S. Bach, Mass in B minor:

For My Daughter: Listen for the Bell

In music, truth.

We have many ways of expressing our feelings about life and death, loss and loneliness. The brevity and often sadness of existence weighs uniquely on the human experience. We see these themes depicted in art, expoused in poetry, and examined on the stage. Novels have been dedicated to these topics; films create melodrama by playing on our sympathies for those who are suffering. But, for me, music, that most abstract of the arts, gets to the essential truth.

Arvo Pärt is a compemporary composer from Estonia. In 1977, he composed a brief work following the news of the death of the great English composer Benjamin Britten, a man he had never met but whose music he had come to greatly admire. Both Pärt and Britten will feature much later in this blog, but I thought that Pärt’s work had something to say about the enduring legacy of JS Bach. And, frankly, this work provides me with something I want to say to my daughter, who is in pain and suffering today.

The Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten opens and ends with silence. These silent beats are written directly into the music and are an important part of the score. Breaking the silence is a bell, which is struck nearly silently. Lines of music begin to weave their magic. As more instruments enter, the texture becomes thick with descending tones. The dynamics swell and then retreat, finally resolving at a low chord. The bell reenters. And then silence. In total, about 8 minutes.

Let’s unpack what Pärt is doing here. The work is scored for stringed orchestra (2 sections of violins, violas, cellos, double basses) and bell. The bell has a solitary tone: an A, which is struck four times at the start at pianissimo. The violins enter, playing partial descending A minor scales, first A-G, then A-F, A-E, etc. Subsequent instruments enter, playing the same descending scales at progressively slower paces (ratios are 1:2:4:8:16, so the basses are playing at 1/16th speed of the first violins). This is, technically speaking, a prolation or mensuration canon, a compositional technique that Pärt plucked from the Renaissance.

The violins start in the upper registers and, as more instruments enter, the music trends down into the lower registers, adding layers of complexity and depth to the music. The various voices split into multiple parts, all descending like tears and searching for chordal and emotional resolution. In fact, they are all seeking notes that will form a final A minor chord. In bar 65, the first violins play middle C, a tone they will hold right through to the end of the piece. One by one, the canon is decronstructed as more voices find their final tone and hold it. The second violins are next with the bottom A to middle C and so on. The dynamics of the music swell to fortissimo, before retreating. At last, the double basses find the low A, completing the puzzle and the orchestra holds the final chord of A minor for 30 beats (5 bars plus 2). A final strike of the bell is made just as the strings stop playing, its tone seems to emerge from the orchestra like a last shimmering light before the darkness of the final silences take hold.

And it is this moment that is pure magic and, I think, the key to the work. As I noted above, that the tone of the bell is an A. But, like all instruments, it has overtones, those additional tones that are produced by subsequent vibrations of the instrument. And the overtone that is clearest is a C#. This final overtone from the bell transforms the final chord from A minor (A-C-E) to A major (A-C#-E). This is not a new technique, although I am not aware of a composer using an overtone to create this effect. Baroque composers used what is called either a picardy or happy third to creates harmonic resolution to a major key from the expected tonic minor. Bach used these picardy chords frequently, bringing in shades of light into darkness, snatching a ray of hope from the pit of despair.

And that is what I think that Pärt is saying here: Listen for the bell, in music as in life.

Arvo Pärt, Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten: