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Arvo Pärt
October 27, 2011 6:53 PM   Subscribe

[Arvo] Pärt’s mature style was inaugurated in 1976 with a small piano piece, “Für Alina”, that remains one of his best-known works. It is governed by the compositional system that he called “tintinnabuli,” derived from the Latin word for “bells.” The tintinnabuli method pairs each note of the melody with a note that comes from a harmonizing chord, so they ring together with bell-like resonance.

"Fratres"

"Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten"

"Passio"
posted by Trurl (53 comments total) 92 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love Pärt. I won't claim to have deep knowledge or anything, but I have a couple of CDs which never fail to be rewarding.
posted by hippybear at 7:00 PM on October 27, 2011


The Beatitudes is another great example....
posted by Thomas Tallis is my Homeboy at 7:01 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Arvo Pärt is my favorite contemporary composer. He's extraordinary, the only guy who can convey today the mystical aura of early baroque pieces from Monteverdi, Palestrina and the like. There was a profile on the NYTimes Magazine last year, it's really worth reading.

The version of Fratres you posted, for violin and piano, is my absolute favorite piece. Thanks for posting this!
posted by falameufilho at 7:05 PM on October 27, 2011


“Für Alina”

Wow. Can you imagine being in that rounded stone room, with that man, showing you that? Transcendent.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:07 PM on October 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I introduced a friend of mine to Pärt, and now she's in love. Not with Pärt, I mean. She really likes Pärt, but she's in love with some guy, and me and Pärt are directly responsible.

(How do you pronounce that, anyway? Poort? Is the 'r' rolled? Estonians, help a brother out.)

Anyhow, but, so, let me explain. I introduced her to Pärt, and two weeks later, she got to this house party, and the music kind of blew. So she put her iPod on, on shuffle, fixed herself a drink, and went out to the garden to have a smoke.

Ten minutes later, a handsome guy comes out of the house, and said, "Whose iPod is this?"

My friend raises her hand.

He says, "I really like Arvo Pärt and all, but, uh, maybe a party isn't the best place, uh. Nobody's talking in there. People are just kind of standing around and staring. This one girl is actually crying. Would you mind if I put on something a little more uplifting?"

She didn't. So he put on the Supremes, and asked her to dance, and the two of them moved in together recently. They're about to get a dog. What I'm wondering now is whether they'll play Pärt for their dog. And, if they do, will the dog cry? Modern domesticity poses many difficult questions. Thank you, Estonia.
posted by liminalrampaste at 7:09 PM on October 27, 2011 [28 favorites]


Thank you for the introduction. I found this very beautiful too.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 7:11 PM on October 27, 2011


Wikipedia says his name is pronounced "ˈɑrvo ˈpært". I'm guessing the umlaut in Estonian is similar to a German umlaut a, which is pronounced as if you are stretching your mouth to say the name of the letter E and then while it's in that position making it into a long A sound. It has no equivalent sound in English.
posted by hippybear at 7:12 PM on October 27, 2011


I recently discovered his music when I was listening to my "Palestrina" channel on Pandora (one of my favorites when walking) and Spiegel im Spiegel came up in the rotation. I picked up a "best of" CD as a result.

On that same walk, I first heard Steve Reich's Proverb and now those two pieces are paired forever in my mind.
posted by TwoToneRow at 7:16 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would just like to state for the record that I have eaten dinner with Arvo Pärt. And talked with him. He is nice.

I did a project on his "Solfeggio" as part of my student teaching portfolio and have taught it to elementary school students. Predictably, they love him too. And his "Bogoroditse Djevo" never fails to make my day...so gorgeous.
posted by altopower at 7:19 PM on October 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


altopower: "I would just like to state for the record that I have eaten dinner with Arvo Pärt. And talked with him. He is nice."

Excuse me, but you're going to have to elaborate on that!
posted by falameufilho at 7:23 PM on October 27, 2011


(How do you pronounce that, anyway? Poort? Is the 'r' rolled? Estonians, help a brother out.)

I usually hear it from English-speaking musicians as pronounced sort of like 'pear'-t (as in the fruit), or like 'pairt,' i suppose. No rolled 'r'.

He's one of my favorite's too. If you didn't notice, 'Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten' is simply a descending a-minor natural scale, played in different harmonic rhythms by the different string sections, i.e. the bass going in whole notes (or double whole, I can't recall the score now), while the first violins play it in quarter notes. It's remarkable.

Fratres, in all it's versions, is amazing, though the violin/piano version is my favorite too.

Also: Tabula Rasa.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:29 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


*favorites, wut
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:30 PM on October 27, 2011


I've always pronounced Pärt as 'Peart', pronouncing 'pear' like the fruit.
posted by Flashman at 7:30 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


wow - this guy really knows how to mine every note and silence for its full potential - he's totally new to me, but i'm really impressed
posted by pyramid termite at 7:40 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have indicated to my family that they must play Pärt's Litany at my funeral. (part 1, part 2, please excuse the horrid "art" on the video, it's the only copy on YouTube)
posted by cRamsay at 7:44 PM on October 27, 2011


Let me tell you my Arvo Pärt story. I've never met him but if I ever did I'd want to hug him. For like a whole minute.

When I was in high school I started listening to more art music as a result of taking AP Music Theory. This eventually led me to the "classical music" section at the local Barnes&Noble, where I found one of Pärt's discs, which was a collection of choral pieces. The first piece I ever heard of his was "I am the True Vine," a choral setting of John 15 in the New Testament. It blew my mind and pretty soon I was buying or checking out discs of Pärt's music whenever I could.

Fast forward a few years, and I was a Mormon missionary up in Canada (Calgary). I had only been in the country for about a week and I was having a hell of a time. Knocking on doors for 8 hours a day isn't easy or fun, and Mormon missionaries aren't really on everyone's top ten list if you know what I mean.

So here I am in Canada, footsore and emotionally drained. We were invited to dinner with a local family. We were waiting in the living room while the food finished cooking and I got to talking with the husband when I noticed his extensive music collection, which included several Arvo Pärt albums.

I expressed my interest and appreciation of the composer and he said, "have you ever heard his piece Spiegel I'm Speigel?" I hadn't. "Well come over here," he said. "You've got to hear this."

He gave me some headphones, and when I closed my eyes I heard the single most beautiful piece of music of my entire life. Tears streamed down my face and I wept silently as I felt the pain and anxiety of being in a 19-year-old in a strange city with no friends, being a minister for a church I wasn't even sure I believed in, and for a moment I felt all those troubles wash away as I listened to the violin and the piano play their simple, simple notes, as sweet as air and (what seemed to me at the time) just as vital.

Pärt's music still does this for me. It is the most religious (in all the right ways) music I have ever heard. It is the music of release. Arvo Pärt's music is a sanctuary to me.
posted by Doleful Creature at 7:48 PM on October 27, 2011 [12 favorites]


He was present for a thing at Grace Cathedral about 10 years ago where one of his pieces was performed by the choir. His name was pronounced the same as I and my friends had been pronouncing it: "arvo part" (rhymes with "car blow fart").
posted by rhizome at 7:49 PM on October 27, 2011


Da Pacem Domine (Lamentate).

Painfully beautiful.
posted by googly at 7:56 PM on October 27, 2011


this guy really knows how to mine every note and silence for its full potential

That's part of the wonderment contained in the Kanon Pokajanen. It's an a cappella piece performed in a giant cathderal space, and the choir sings harmony with its own lingering echoes. It's one of my favorite CDs to play as loud as I can take it, because the decay of the sounds is so long you nearly have to have full volume to really appreciate the intensity of the piece.

He's a master of what he does, and I treasure his art's presence on the planet.
posted by hippybear at 8:05 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Someone uploaded all of 24 Preludes for a Fugue, but wothout English subtitles. It's worth getting the DVD if you're a Pärt fan.
posted by homunculus at 8:06 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wit brings together three wonderfully poignant forces together: Arvo Pärt (Speigel im Speigel), Emma Thompson, and John Donne. You'll need your hanky.
posted by kneecapped at 8:06 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, man. Wit... is utterly devastating and brilliant. Each time I watch it I know that I really need to watch it again... only not right away.
posted by hippybear at 8:08 PM on October 27, 2011


I'm definitely a nonexpert, but did anybody mention 'Arbos' yet? That's another one of his that I like a lot.
posted by box at 8:13 PM on October 27, 2011


This one girl is actually crying.

That was my reaction the first time I heard something by him (though I no longer remember what it was). It was instant - the music started and so did the tears. Great post - thanks so much.
posted by rtha at 8:16 PM on October 27, 2011


Jesus, Trurl. You're my cultural hero.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 8:17 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Every time the instrument strikes a note, you imagine the next one, but he always surprises you. Sometimes the tears come because he's chosen major instead of minor, sometimes he devastates you by striking the same note again. I wish I knew music theory to understand more about why these things move me, but from most of his descriptions, such as "two people whose paths appear to cross, and then don't," I wonder whether Pärt gives a shit about theory anyway.
posted by kneecapped at 8:22 PM on October 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Regarding the pronunciation: I spent a summer working with Estonians, including one named Märten that tried to explain to us Americans how to pronounce his name several times a day (he wasn't being irritating; we really were determined to get it right and kept demanding further instruction). Anyway, we never got close. Estonian is Finno-Urgic, if i'm remembering correctly, which puts it in a [very small] language branch with Finnish and Hungarian and very little else. hippybear is correct with "it has no equivalent sound in English".

Pärt really is glorious; the only other composer I'm familiar with that does chime-y so well is Phil Niblock. Beautiful stuff.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 8:24 PM on October 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


...the only other composer I'm familiar with that does chime-y so well is Phil Niblock.

Olivier Messiaen is no slouch in that department.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:48 PM on October 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


Arvo Pärt, or rather, the presence of his music on my iPod, was what convinced my father-in-law that I was an OK guy to marry his daughter. It was the second night of his visit. He'd flown down from Calgary to makes sure his crazy daughter hadn't gone off the deep end when she up and married some weirdo redneck from Alabama she met on the Internet. I'd passed the initial tests by being passably polite and not too obviously stupid, but judgment was still out. We were having cocktails and making small talk. He picked up my iPod and idly began scrolling through it. I'm doomed, I thought. His worst suspicions confirmed. He's gonna thumb right to Anal Cunt or the Crucifucks and then catch the next plane back to Canada and never speak to us again.

"Arvo Pärt? I love his work!" he exclaimed. And then we listened to Litany and I basked in the glow of hard-won familial approval and we've gotten along great ever since.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:18 PM on October 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


Pärt is not actually pronounced as "pear+t" or a variant of that. Instead, 'ä' sounds like 'a' in words such as apple, ham, happening, angst, etc. It's also a very short, quick name, it should be as short as "ham", with a 't' attached to the end. Sharp and fast. Pärt. Almost like a shot.

There is another rather fascinating composer from Estonia, Veljo Tormis. I was reading this thread and was reminded of his Curse Upon Iron. There's also a metal version of it, made with Tormis's full approval (he is in fact the older, bearded man you can see 30 seconds in).

Well, whaddayouknow. After about six years of lurking and composing needlessly lengthy Metafilter replies on philosophy in my mind I finally registered. Hey all.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 9:20 PM on October 27, 2011 [15 favorites]


Welcome to MetaFilter, Pyrogenesis. Best place in the land of the internet.

I'm literally drinking and practicing pronouncing this to my cat (thank god I live alone). Funny how the differences are so small, and yet so large.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:27 PM on October 27, 2011


The great thing about Pärt's vocal music is that most of it has been recorded by the Estonian Philharmonic Choir, one of the best in the world -- their tone is as clear as a bell, even at full volume. Kanon Pokajanen was my introduction to Pärt. It's emotionally draining to listen to the whole thing -- almost ninety minutes of austere a cappella singing, sometimes loud, sometimes soft, relentlessly sad, almost entirely in D minor. But in the Prayer After the Canon, in the last three or four minutes of the whole thing, there's a moment when the music shifts to F major and it's like sun breaking through clouds. Then it slumps back down to D minor, then a long chord in G, and it's on the cusp of resolving to D major, and when it finally does it's the loveliest thing you've ever heard.

Some other gems that I haven't seen mentioned yet: De Profundis, Summa, Miserere, Berliner Messe

PS since pyrogenesis mentioned Veljo Tormis, I'm gonna throw in my favorite from him
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 9:31 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love a lot of his stuff but I want to mention the second movement of Tabula Rasa, Silentium. I can't listen to it though, or I will be depressed for a week. It's the saddest music ever.

I love the first movement too! It starts off making me think of rainstorms passing an upland village, and fuck, by the end the Devil is born on Earth, and clouds of bat-winged angels knife through the sky proclaiming the end of Christendom.

Probably it doesn't say anything good about Pärt that I like him so much.
posted by fleacircus at 9:42 PM on October 27, 2011


Fratres is a piece of art I have a special relationship with. It's one I don't listen to very often, because it's like dumping raw beauty and emotion into my head.

The first time, I was 17 and for some reason, I picked up tickets to a Kronos Quartet concert. I didn't really understand contemporary classical music, didn't understand most of what they played that night. (Still don't in some cases.) But the beautiful minimalism of Fratres, that stood out as the moment of beauty in the midst of compositions that were just noisy chaos to me at the time.

I had it on tape, but it wasn't the same. My POS walkman knock-off had a hum which made radio-friendly pop more tolerable. Then, in winter of 1996, I saw Mother Night and ended up bawling in theater. Those notes unlocked a ton of stuff that had been piling up since the death of my grandmother a year before.

Then, I let it slip out of mind for another decade until I picked up Orient & Occident and thought, "maybe I should check out Fratres." And still, it's a composition I listen to maybe once or twice a year, because it's still stunning after 23 years. It's a composition that's both intellectually, emotionally, and aesthetically fascinating for me, in a way that I don't fully get from other examples of musical minimalism. It's a spiritual experience for me, and one of the few works of art I'd call "perfect."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:49 PM on October 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


In addition to all the other reasons I love my wonderful wife, I'll be forever grateful that she introduced me to the music of Pärt and Morton Lauridsen. My sense of wonder opened up a little more when I became acquainted with their music.
posted by vverse23 at 9:55 PM on October 27, 2011


Hey all.

Blasted! They're everywhere :)
posted by daniel_charms at 10:23 PM on October 27, 2011


Since the article (which I finally got around to reading) mentions Pärt's film music, stating that he had to rely on writing film scores for a living after the uproar caused by Credo in 1968, I think it should also be noted that one of the most popular of his pieces in Estonia today is, in fact, an accordion piece called the Ukuaru Waltz, written for a 1973 film. Mostly, though, he wrote music for animated shorts, some of which can be found on Youtube:
Aatomik (Little Atom)
Aatomik ja jõmmid (Little Atom and the Thugs)
Operaator Kõps seeneriigis (Kõps in the Land of Mushrooms)
Operaator Kõps üksikul saarel (Kõps on the Deserted Island)
Operaator Kõps marjariigis (Kõps in the Land of Berries)
Operaator Kõps kiviriigis (Kõps in the Land of Stones)
posted by daniel_charms at 12:32 AM on October 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


Here's a short mp3 of me pronouncing his name.
posted by martinrebas at 2:46 AM on October 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Two notes from this man, and you're sure: he cares.
posted by Twang at 5:58 AM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you play a little piano, have a decent library (or can get this book via interlibrary loan) and would like a cheap copy of the score to Für Alina, here's what you're gonna do: Go to your local library and find Paul Hillier's biography Arvo Pärt (from the (Oxford Studies of Composers series). I can't find my copy offhand, but there's a handwritten score of Für Alina somewhere in there. Photocopy, and voila. It's easy, and remarkably satisfying to play!
posted by the_bone at 6:38 AM on October 28, 2011


I really enjoyed Bjork's 1997 interview with him, for BBC's "Modern Minimalists" (2:17 into this clip).
The first time I heard his music, I was a teenager, and my sister had just brought home "Te Deum" on CD. It was the most beautiful thing I had heard.
Fast-forward to many years later, and I had an opportunity to attend a concert of Arvo Pärt's music here in Seattle, at a cathedral. Te Deum was the piece. I'm pretty sure I was crying silently to myself during parts of the performance. I had never heard anything so beautiful in my life.
posted by erasorhed at 8:53 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tom Tykwer's third (?) film, Heaven, is stunningly and perfectly beautiful because of Arvo Part's music -- how there is almost always something by Part playing, softly, while things happen, and how it lifts the whole story up into that wonderful weightless silence. like this.
posted by spindle at 9:03 AM on October 28, 2011


altopower: "I would just like to state for the record that I have eaten dinner with Arvo Pärt. And talked with him. He is nice."

Excuse me, but you're going to have to elaborate on that!
posted by falameufilho at 9:23 PM on October 27 [+] [!]


My university does a contemporary music symposium every year, and my junior year, the featured composer was Pärt. And at the big celebratory dinner, I found myself sitting right next to him. And he is as awesome to talk to as you might expect. Even though he thought I was from Winnipeg instead of Wisconsin.
posted by altopower at 9:21 AM on October 28, 2011


I wish I knew music theory to understand more about why these things move me, but from most of his descriptions, such as "two people whose paths appear to cross, and then don't," I wonder whether Pärt gives a shit about theory anyway.

A quote from the NYT story at the first link:

“This is the whole secret of tintinnabuli,” he exclaimed. “The two lines. One line is who we are, and the other line is who is holding and takes care of us. Sometimes I say — it is not a joke, but also it is as a joke taken — that the melodic line is our reality, our sins. But the other line is forgiving the sins.”
posted by Trurl at 9:52 AM on October 28, 2011


How have I not listened to this before? You're all fired.
posted by rdc at 11:41 AM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for this. I had no idea who this composer was.
posted by mikeand1 at 11:46 AM on October 28, 2011


Oh and 24-bit FLAC, FTW.
posted by mikeand1 at 11:58 AM on October 28, 2011


When I was 39 weeks pregnant with my first child, plagued by prodromal labor, I spent hours if not days trying to put together the Perfect Labor Playlist. To help induce a mood of quiet, timeless serenity, it was comprised almost entirely of 20th century classical music, and was at least half Part. I had a bazillion different versions of Fratres, which I tried to time on the playlist to come around every ninety minutes or so, to give a feeling of constancy without repetition or clock-watching. I must have listened to Fratres in its various incarnations close to a hundred times in that week, putting together a 24-hour long playlist.

When I finally went into labor for real, it was a complete Hollywood-style water-breaking immediate-labor-ensuing screaming-in-the-car-on-the-way-to-the hospital freight train that lasted less than five hours from start to finish, and we never even took the ipod out of the birth bag. But to this day, if I play Fratres, my now-five-year-old daughter quiets down and listens. . . because, of course, when I was listening to it over and over and over again in the days leading up to her birth, so was she.
posted by KathrynT at 1:06 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


hippybear is correct with "it has no equivalent sound in English".

I wouldn't say that's quite true- i'd say the a in 'at' is pretty similar. So Pärt could be pronunced like the word 'pat' with a sharp r before t.

Or, martinrebas's explanation is pretty good too.
posted by revikim at 4:07 PM on October 28, 2011


The heart-stopping beauty of Pärt's work is all the more remarkable in an era when most "serious" contemporary composers have done their best to alienate mainstream audiences with ugly, atonal monstrosities which sound like they're being played by an orang utang with his elbows. To paraphrase that great music critic Eric Morecambe, Pärt uses just the right notes in exactly the right order.
posted by joannemullen at 2:30 AM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


The heart-stopping beauty of Pärt's work is all the more remarkable in an era when most "serious" contemporary composers have done their best to alienate mainstream audiences with ugly, atonal monstrosities which sound like they're being played by an orang utang with his elbows.

You need to get out more.
posted by hippybear at 7:43 AM on October 29, 2011


The heart-stopping beauty of Pärt's work is all the more remarkable in an era when most "serious" contemporary composers have done their best to alienate mainstream audiences with ugly, atonal monstrosities which sound like they're being played by an orang utang with his elbows.

I like that different composers write different music. It's not a zero sum game.
posted by speicus at 1:29 AM on November 3, 2011


How about this atonal monstrosity for starters?
posted by speicus at 1:46 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


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