Episode: Arvo Part's "Brothers" in Salzburg


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Arvo Part's "Brothers" in Salzburg
In 1980, the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt emigrated from his Soviet-controlled homeland and settled in Austria. Since the 1960’s, Pärt’s increasingly spiritual and overtly religious music, imbued with mystical and contemplative rituals of the Russian Orthodox Church, did not sit well with the communist authorities, and Pärt found it increasing hard to live and work in Estonia. On today’s date in 1980, at the Salzburg Festival in Austria, another Baltic artist, the Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer, gave the premiere performance of a new violin-piano arrangement of Part’s “Fratres,” or “Brothers”—an instrumental work from 1977 that Pärt subsequently rescored for a variety of ensembles. In the version commissioned by the Salzburg Festival, the original harmonic material resides in the serene piano part, while the violin plays virtuosic variations above it. That serenity is the result of Pärt’s effort to—as he put it— “learn to walk again as a composer.” He came up with a term, tintinnabulation, for the simplicity and directness of expression he sought. “Tintinnabulation is like this,” writes Pärt. “I am alone with silence. I work with very few elements… The three notes of the triad are like bells. And that is why I called it tintinnabulation.”

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