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That Pärt Feeling

Arvo Pärt, the Estonian composer beloved for his minimalist and spiritual music, is profiled in this documentary. Without going into his history or process, the documentary gets out of its own way and invites us to experience his sublime music.

AIRED: February 05, 2021 | 1:18:12
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TRANSCRIPT

[cellos playing]

[cellos continue playing]

[in German]

[cellos continue playing]

[music ends]

[violin playing]

[all playing]

[woman in English] As a composer, you're capable of writing something down

which immediately-- like for example, now we play a piece of Elgar.

You know, and you play this music and immediately you see --

You see hills, you see rolling--

I mean, it's just so England.

And it's all written down in music.

And it just gives you this whole image and you can almost smell it.

Everything is there.

And then it's the same, coming back to P ärt,

you know, you suddenly enter a world of--

I don't know, you could even be in Mars.

I mean, you're listening to this music, and you suddenly feel this--

You're lifted up somewhere there.

[chorus singing in Latin]

[singing continues]

[in English] Sometimes I have the feeling he's a composer from another planet, actually.

And it is amazing

that in this incredibly hectic day and age,

there is a man, who instead of looking outside for his inspiration,

he looks inside.

[chorus continues singing]

[man speaking Dutch]

[playing orchestral music]

[man speaking French]

[orchestral music fades]

[strings playing]

[orchestra continues]

[man speaking English] It starts in the end of the '80s.

And we made first recording Estonian radio,

and this piece wasTe Deum.

[chorus singing]

I heard this piece

and then I interested about this score.

And there were so many question marks.

And then I just put this score to the wall, different pages.

Because these old university edition scores were like this.

And there was in this page two bars,

three bars, two bars.

And you can't find the...

structure and form of this piece at all.

Then I put to the wall

and then I start to analyze

and made a quick recording for Estonian Radio.

And Arvo P ärt heard. We didn't know each other.

And he heard about that I made the recording.

And he called me that he want to hear this.

I sent this tape and after this tape, we start to collaborate.

[chorus continues singing]

[Kaljuste] I heard this later, that his wife told me,

that he wants to burn,

and send to trash

all these pages ofTe Deum.

And then he asked Manfred Eicher to record us.

Then we make our first recording to ECM.

It was the beginning.

[orchestral music resumes]

[in German]

[vocalizing melody]

Uh...

[chuckles]

[vocalizing melody]

[mutters]

[playing dense harmonies]

[man speaking Dutch]

[playing single-note melody]

[playing minor chords]

[playing single-note melody]

[continues melody]

[notes continue resonating]

It's very hard, because, theoretically, the notes are not--

Oh. [sighs]

The notes or the rhythms are not the most difficult thing, but the line of the music

is often very difficult to get

the beginning or the end, to make a bridge, to make a long story...

to keep attention, that's often very, very hard to do.

I mean, you suddenly feel very human, uh,

without often enough, uh...

capabilities of actually, yeah, being able to do that,

because it sometimes gets out of your hands.

[vocalizing melody]

[chorus singing]

[man in Dutch]

[vocalizing]

[singing]

[continues]

[in Dutch]

[dense minor chords]

[in English] Right?

The power that comes from that.

It's such a stark contrast, but when it comes in, you get the full triad this time.

In the first movement, you only had D and F

and now you get the A.

And it only adds one note,

but, like, it opens the entire...

[chuckles] fifth element or something.

So it's really subtle harmonic writing,

but you don't need more than subtlety.

[dense minor chords]

[playing single-note melody]

[In English] Yes, that was very good. Sorry to stop you right away.

I think, can you-- If you start more intimately, you have more room to make,

you know, to go a little bit more extrovert. Yeah.

I'm always a bit afraid that it doesn't-- That it doesn't speak.

Yeah. Yeah, that's--

No, but also that if you play too soft, Yeah?

you almost don't hear the resonance. Okay!

Yes. It depends on the piano. On this piano, it should be fine. [chuckles]

Yeah.

[playing single-note melody]

As we're expecting,

[melody continues] and that's the resolution.

[melody continues]

So two dissonant, kind of dissonant phrases.

And now, finally, the... [melody continues]

Yeah. Now it's the resolution.

[melody continues]

There's a kind of coda. [melody continues]

Yes.

[dense harmonies]

[mutters]

[ends]

[vocalizing melody]

[in Dutch]

[in English] Four, once again.

Quarters.

A little bit shorter, one millimeter.

And one...

[trumpet playing]

[strings begin playing]

[stops]

Forty-three.

After second beat, just don't connect this music.

[vocalizing melody]

We lose pulsation. [woman] And don't rush.

Absolutely. Keep back a little bit.

Four. [mutters] Nine.

[Kaljuste] When I start, I was like a student.

I made his own old music.

When he was a student.

Very active, made different jokes in music and so-on.

And I connect with these tintinnabuli first pieces

where there are just... [vocalizes]

He said, "No. You are not allowed to do this."

He tells that he want to forget all what he wrote before.

But I made myself like I want.

And then it's just he warms...

And now already he respects his old music.

And there are no problems anymore.

[in Dutch]

[Kaljuste] And if you look in a big picture

then all these things happens in Eastern Europe.

Penderecki, same.

The beginning was...

And the Warsaw Autumn and all these kind of styles.

And then he starts...

Beauty comes through.

The different needs in music.

And then it's happened in different countries in Eastern Europe.

Similar things.

We both were born in a country

that was a satellite country of the Soviet Union,

and in a Communist regime.

So this is definitely what binds us

and, uh, it was not easy

to feel free to be able to create

whatever you felt like.

You felt always controlled to a certain degree.

[cellos playing dense harmonies]

[music ends]

[slowly descending phrases]

[Thompson] It definitely has this very strong...

atmospheric,

uh, aura about it.

I mean, in a program,

it has a very strong, particular,

spiritual, religious--

I don't know what it is, but, I mean, I'm not a religious person,

but, I mean, I do believe in sort of spirituality.

So it's important to have this connection with that.

And that's something that he really holds. I mean, it's not a--

It's a mixture, I suppose.

Is it something emotional or is it something from the head?

When you're performing this music.

I would say it's very much both.

It's connecting these two things together.

[up-tempo, minor key]

[low strings playing slowly descending melody]

[dissonant harmony resonating]

He reminds me of a tree.

His roots are firmly rooted in the ground,

but his branches are green

and his blossoms are beautiful.

So he's a combination of earthiness and spirituality.

[chorus singing in Latin]

He needs to go inside himself to create, I think.

He cannot go outside.

That's why he might-- he might be perceived by people like a recluse,

like a hermit,

which I'm sure he is not.

But I think he needs to be isolated in order to create.

He communicates through music.

He doesn't communicate through words or through...

outward sort of expressions.

He's an inside person.

[singing continues]

[singing fades]

Whenever I play his music,

uh, first, it's a lot about breathing.

So you really have to breathe with the meter for it to work.

Otherwise, it's not going to.

And it's not something you can force. [plays minor chord]

And you really have to like move into it, uh...

for it to sound properly.

And I-- It's kind of like even the way you touch the piano

or you touch the organ or any instrument,

it has to be almost like you're hitting a bell or something,

like, the force.

It's very much about the force.

Uh...

I'm gonna play you a little bit from this.

The opening is piano.

[quietly plays minor chord]

So that's the end of the first phrase and it ends on this...

[plays open interval] [chuckling]

It's so open and simple, but, uh, it leaves you hanging,

wanting more, waiting for what's coming next.

And then you just get the same fifth.

[playing open intervals]

And then...

a subtle ascension

and always the "returnal," meanwhile the drone is still going below.

[playing two-note melodic phrases]

[phrase ends on dissonance]

Yes. That's very, very good.

It's way better in the structure.

Sometimes, I think still, when you have these---

[playing phrase]

After it, or these--

Yeah, he sometimes uses these things, yeah?

Uh, there's another one.

[vocalizing melody] Yes, here.

[playing phrase] Mm-hmm.

And it would be nice if you can, uh,

if you can differentiate there in your timing as well.

Because it's about a voice that wants to go somewhere. [plays phrase]

But actually--

But gets stuck. It returns.

I feel that there's like a hesitation.

[vocalizing melody] And ends up--

[plays melody]

It goes back. And I think that's an unexpected moment in a way.

It's very small. It's just a tiny gesture.

But it can become a big gesture

if you just time it in such a way that this is going back to that note,

like being stuck, it actually hurts.

Maybe, can you this time... play that little phrase?

[chuckles] Yeah.

[cellos playing dense harmonies]

[Van Den Munckhof]

[dense harmonies continue playing]

The simplicity of the music

coupled with this spirituality

and those things are what make it accessible, I think, for people.

which would mean that people can really relate with it.

Because people want to relate with spiritual things nowadays,

just as much as they always have done.

But often I think, for people,

classical music somehow feels a very distant thing for them to grab hold of.

Whereas P ärt is somehow very accessible,

although it's not--

I mean, when you actually have to work on it, it's not simple at all.

[singing in Church Slavonic]

[Reuss]

[singing continues]

[ends]

[orchestra playing]

[chorus singing in Latin]

[Boesten]

[singing in English] ♪Christ with me ♪

♪Christ with me ♪

♪Christ with me ♪

♪Christ with me ♪

- ♪Christ ♪ - ♪Christ in me ♪

- ♪Beneath ♪ - ♪Christ in me ♪

- ♪Me ♪ - ♪Christ on my right ♪

- ♪Christ ♪ - ♪Christ in me ♪

- ♪Above ♪ - ♪Christ in me ♪

- ♪Me ♪ - ♪Christ on my left ♪

- ♪Christ ♪ - ♪Christ in me ♪

- ♪When I lie ♪ - ♪Christ in me ♪

- ♪Down ♪ - ♪Christ ♪

♪When I arise ♪

- ♪Christ ♪ - ♪Christ in me ♪

- ♪When I sit ♪ - ♪Christ in me ♪

- ♪Down ♪ - ♪Christ ♪

♪When I arise ♪

[in German]

Ah-ha.

Yeah.

[note resonates]

[both muttering]

[P ärt]

[all chuckling]

[P ärt] Okay.

[vocalizing]

[muttering]

[cellos start playing one by one]

[Coverdale] I sometimes think of it as being architectural.

There's a lot of arc structures,

uh, these linear movements.

And there's just a lot of, uh...

angles, form.

It's all in the music, I mean, like, you hear it and you can draw it.

To me, it's almost like mathematical music in that sense.

Uh, I see clearer lines more than I do, like, a particular image,

or some sort of romantic vision.

[orchestra playing]

[Kylián] Being with Arvo P ärt's music is like walking on thin ice.

It's very beautiful.

But there's always some kind of a danger

that you don't know when the ice is going to break

and when you're going to submerge underwater.

In all the beauty, there is a certain degree of danger,

which is not only attractive, but gives it more depth.

For sure.

[orchestra continues]

[Kylián] Arvo P ärt's music is such,

that you can almost do to it whatever you please.

You can give it the background that you like.

If I listen toFratres,

I can move in a very frantic way, I can move very, very fast,

or I can move very slowly, but the music doesn't care.

The music exists in its noble, uh, form.

[orchestra continues]

So I always see ourselves as, uh-- as nomadic people.

People that-that, uh,

pass a certain place,

but they bring something that is of their origin.

And those African masks, they actually symbolize

something that you always carry with you

no matter in which country you are,

no matter which path you decide to take in your life.

It's about heritage and culture,

the cultural baggage that you carry with you.

[male chorus singing]

[organ playing]

[male chorus, organ continue]

[bells chiming]

[percussion]

[Coverdale] It felt like a clean slate at the time,

coming across his work.

a "returnal" to fundamentals in music

that very much, uh, stays with me, I think, in my work constantly,

especially in the composing stages.

Uh, but also in terms of,

I felt a connection with him early on

because I was a church organist for nine years

at an Estonian church.

And if you maybe analyze a lot of organ structures in my work,

uh, there's a lot of open fifths in sequences,

uh, which P ärt has a lot of,

open fifths, uh, kind of like hocketing back and forth

in the same way that a lot of, uh, Renaissance music

and medieval music does.

So there's that connection.

But mine is a lot more occupied.

[synthesizer playing organ sound loops]

[droning organ sound loops]

[rumbling sonic texture]

Trivium is like, I think the structure comes up a lot in P ärt's music, the three,

which relates to the Holy Trinity

the entire, uh,

this history of trifecta, the three, the triad.

I mean, it's even, uh, elemental, I suppose you could say,

in terms of music.

That's one of the first things you learn as a child, the triad, three notes.

Uh, but it somehow sounds so full.

You don't really need anything else.

[playing two-note melodic phrases]

[vocalizing melody]

[no audible dialogue]

[cellos start playing one by one]

[orchestral music playing] [no audible dialogue]

[no audible dialogue]

[no audible dialogue]

[Gomis speaking French]

[orchestral music continues]

[no audible dialogue]

[no audible dialogue]

[Gomis]

[music continues]

[Gomis]

[music continues]

[in English] ♪My heart's in the highlands ♪

♪My heart is not here ♪

[Gomis speaks French]

[in English] ♪My heart's in the highlands ♪

[Gomis]

♪A-chasing the wild deer ♪

♪And following the roe ♪

♪My heart's in the highlands ♪

♪Wherever I go ♪

[Gomis]

[singing in Latin]

[chorus fades]

[solo piano playing] [no audible dialogue]

[piano resonating]

[playing two-note melody]

[piano continues]

What is a unique quality in Arvo P ärt...

in this kind of kitchen,

he works sometimes with kindergarten children

with his children's songs.

And he took commission of a poor church in England.

And he's afraid not to do

some piece for very famous.

Just he behind this kind,

very, very low, how to say, profile.

[Kaljuste] Like human, he is never ambition.

It's interesting that the person is not ambition

but the music works in the word.

[in German]

[Kaljuste] It's most warm and nice person what I know.

[all chuckling]

[Boesten]

Arvo P ärt, he sat down at the piano,

and he took a really long silence before he actually started to play,

and he closed his eyes, which, already, I thought was really very telling.

And then, well, he started to play.

But with every phrase, which was only four notes,

he would actually hold it in pedal

and fold his hands like that, like praying almost,

and he would be like this.

And he would listen to it until his mind had processed

all the interactions between the notes

that he heard in the pedal tone.

And when he thought, "Okay, now I can go on. I understood what has happened."

Then he went to the next phrase and he did the same thing. He was listening again.

[chattering, indistinct]

[Mandos]

[slow tempo]

[Kaljuste] His fantasy flying all the time.

Every new piece, you don't know what's coming on.

There is no same structure.

And already what is interesting now

that this music what he made duringTabula Rasa,

now when he wrote Adam's Lament,

he turned, "Come on. Just listen.

Don't start to analyze this.

I just wrote music."

And when you start to listen,

there is something, smells of--

notTabula Rasa but tintinnabuli, some there.

But it's already organic.

What before he made with algebra and mathematics

and all these structures.

Numbers, numbers, numbers.

Now, it's coming another way to his music.

It's interesting, very interesting.

[orchestra continues playing]

[Kaljuste] There's many, many different Arvo P ärts during his life.

For me, his last, most interesting production

was when I conduct all his four symphonies.

It's like life-- It's like one life symphony.

First, second, third and fourth.

[woodwinds playing]

First was this kind...

of driving polyphony

with a jazzy world with 12-tone system.

And then second was collage

with really attraction,

with noisy, so noisy.

And with the third symphony that you heard today

and fourth symphony already, just other worlds.

And it's like...

It's a human life of one composer.

[orchestra slowly building to crescendo]

[timpani playing drumroll]

[brass section playing]

[cadence]

[ends]

[mutters]

[man replies in German] Okay.

[clears throat]

[speaking] Do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti,

do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti,

do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti,

do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti,

do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti.

[chuckling]

[cellos start playing one by one]

[cellos playing sustained, gradually ascending tones]

[decrescendo]

[gradual crescendo]

[decrescendo]

[playing quietly]

[modulating towards minor harmonies]

[crescendo]

[low note resonates]

[crescendo to dissonant harmonies]

[gradual decrescendo to consonant harmonies]

[low note resonating]

[ends]

[all laughing]

Okay.

Yeah.

[musicians chattering, indistinct]

Mm-hmm.

[man] Yeah.

[applause] [man] Bravo!

[cheers]

[chorus singing] [applause fades]

[singing]

[Reuss]

[singing]

[in English] His music gives space for everybody.

His music gives--

You are not connected with this music.

And at the same time,

when it's some prayer or a story

what he tells,

same time is distance and same time touch you.

It's both sides.

This is unique and it's a mark of quality.

[all chattering, indistinct]

[man] Okay. And maybe one with the students.

[in English] Yes, you stay here.

I come here. [all laughing]

[no audible dialogue]

[woman] Beautiful, beautiful.

[all chuckling]

[woman] Smile, smile.

[man] Thank you, Arvo.

[chorus singing in Latin]

[woman chuckling] Smile.

[all chuckling]

[singing continues]

[P ärt in German]

Okay.

Yeah.

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