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Fratres for String Quartet

Arvo Pärt (b. 1935)

Danish String Quartet (photo credit: Caroline Bittencourt)

Danish String Quartet (photo credit: Caroline Bittencourt)

Composer
Arvo Pärt (b. 1935)
Composition Year
1985/89
Artists
Danish Quartet (Frederik Øland, Rune Sorensen [violins], Asbjørn Nørgaard [viola], Fredrik Sjölin [cello])

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

The Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt, has become something of a cult figure ever since his Tabula Rasa CD was brought out by ECM in the early eighties, a CD that included one of the early versions of Fratres. In the late sixties and early seventies Pärt had totally changed his style of composition. He had made a study of Gregorian chant, the contrapuntal works of the Renaissance masters and Russian Orthodox chant and under their influence he radically simplified his style. He called his new style tintinnabulation, from the Latin word for bells. 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. Here I am alone with silence. I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comfort me. I work with very few elements - with one voice, with two voices. I build with the most primitive materials - with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I called it tintinnabulation.

This new style led to astonishing success for Pärt's music, which seems to have struck a chord in an age when people need a point of repose in otherwise hectic lives. The listeners' desire to find something in his music deeper than mere diversion coincides with Pärt's conviction that he is offering an experience of peace, beauty and simplicity as antidotes to the complexity of modern life. Its meditative aspect along with its oppressive but comforting melancholy seems to be a characteristic of contemporary Eastern European art in general.

Fratres exists in several different versions. The original work dates from 1977 and was scored for twelve parts (winds, strings, claves and tom-tom). It is probably best-known in the piano and violin version.. The version for string quartet dates from 1989 and is particularly austere. Throughout the work the second violin holds down a continuous chord, and against this drone the other parts move stepwise and in parallel motion, as if evoking the chanting of medieval monks. In addition the first violin and viola have a scordatura tuning, their lowest string being tuned a major third and major second lower than their normal tuning. This provides a richer sonority in the middle and lower ranges of the quartet. The music has a near hypnotic quality, achieved through a wave-like repetition of the musical phrases.  

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Fratres for String Quartet

Composer: Arvo Pärt (b. 1935)
Performance date: Saturday 3rd July 2010
Venue: St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland

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Composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1935)
Work Title Fratres for String Quartet
Composition Year 1985/89
Artist(s) Danish Quartet (Frederik Øland, Rune Sorensen [violins], Asbjørn Nørgaard [viola], Fredrik Sjölin [cello])
Performance Date Saturday 3rd July 2010
Performance Venue St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland
Event Coffee Concert
Duration 00:09:16
Recording Engineer Anton Timoney, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category String Quartet
Instrumentation 2vn, va, vc
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

The Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt, has become something of a cult figure ever since his Tabula Rasa CD was brought out by ECM in the early eighties, a CD that included one of the early versions of Fratres. In the late sixties and early seventies Pärt had totally changed his style of composition. He had made a study of Gregorian chant, the contrapuntal works of the Renaissance masters and Russian Orthodox chant and under their influence he radically simplified his style. He called his new style tintinnabulation, from the Latin word for bells. 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. Here I am alone with silence. I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comfort me. I work with very few elements - with one voice, with two voices. I build with the most primitive materials - with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I called it tintinnabulation.

This new style led to astonishing success for Pärt's music, which seems to have struck a chord in an age when people need a point of repose in otherwise hectic lives. The listeners' desire to find something in his music deeper than mere diversion coincides with Pärt's conviction that he is offering an experience of peace, beauty and simplicity as antidotes to the complexity of modern life. Its meditative aspect along with its oppressive but comforting melancholy seems to be a characteristic of contemporary Eastern European art in general.

Fratres exists in several different versions. The original work dates from 1977 and was scored for twelve parts (winds, strings, claves and tom-tom). It is probably best-known in the piano and violin version.. The version for string quartet dates from 1989 and is particularly austere. Throughout the work the second violin holds down a continuous chord, and against this drone the other parts move stepwise and in parallel motion, as if evoking the chanting of medieval monks. In addition the first violin and viola have a scordatura tuning, their lowest string being tuned a major third and major second lower than their normal tuning. This provides a richer sonority in the middle and lower ranges of the quartet. The music has a near hypnotic quality, achieved through a wave-like repetition of the musical phrases.