Music: Fratres by composer Arvo Pärt


arvo partFratres means Brothers. It is a composition by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1935). The first time I heard this piece was very early this century. My wife and I were visiting a teacher friend of hers. This tune was playing on the stereo. I was fascinated.

Wikipedia says that Fratres exemplifies Pärt’s “tintinnabuli style of composition. It is three-part music, written in 1977, without fixed instrumentation and has been described as a ‘mesmerising set of variations on a six-bar theme combining frantic activity and sublime stillness that encapsulates Pärt’s observation that ‘the instant and eternity are struggling within us.'” Yes, “mesmerizing” is an accurate description.

Linus Åkesson writes: “The analytical meets the aesthetical as Pärt takes us on a meditative, harmonical journey, built up from a simple set of mathematical rules. Many people who listen to Fratres find it repetitive or even boring at first. After a while, though, they start to unconsciously recognize some of the patterns in the music.” I never found it boring.

The version I first heard I believe involved twelve cellos.
12 Cellists Of The Berlin Philharmonic.
Eight Cellos, Hungarian State Opera Orchestra

Then I heard this take, an adaptation for cello and electronics. It’s almost a different composition.
Hermine Horiot 
Lana Trotovsek on violin

Beats Antique, Violin, and Piano – Arvo Part Remix
Sheet music, violin, and piano

It turns out that many variations of this work exist, involving combinations of strings, percussion, recorders, piano, trombone, saxophone, and guitar. 
Saxophone soprano: José Pedro Gonçalinho

The composition has been used in at least a dozen films and documentaries, including There Will Be BloodTo The Wonder, and The Place Beyond the Pines.

Jazz pianist Aaron Parks incorporated elements of Fratres into his composition Harvesting Dance (2008), which has been performed by Terence Blanchard.

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