Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres” is a beautiful piece that emulates many aspects of the minimalist musical idiom while also emphasizing Pärt’s mystical beliefs. Pärt (born 1935) is an Estonian composer whose work has become an important facet of the 20th century musical landscape. While he traversed through many different genres when he started composing, writing in a neo-classical style at first and experimenting with twelve-tone music before turning to minimalism, the minimalist style he developed which he came to call “tintinnabuli” is what he is most known for. Inspired by his mystical experiences with chant music, Pärt developed the genre and referred to it as “tintinnabuli”, from the Latin word tintinnabulum, which means bell. Based on a conceptual process similar to the minimalist approach, Pärt’s tintinnabular music is characterized by an arpeggiated voice that outlines the tonic triad and a second voice, which moves diatonically in a stepwise motion. The minimalist tendency to use limited harmonies and repeated rhythmic figures is also present in his work. As Pärt himself described, “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… The three notes of a triad are like bells. An that is why I call it tintinnabulation.”
“Fratres” is an astounding example of the principle concepts of minimalist music injected with his own experience with different musical idioms and his own spiritual beliefs. The chant inspired quality and bell-like characteristic that he searched for in his work offers a beautiful placid tone, which is then contrasted by fast arpeggios and intensity. While the harmonic structure of the piece is limited and mostly unchanging, the use of various rhythmic figures, polymetric changes, retrogade melodies, and re-voiced chords offer enough deviation from the initial material and keeps the audience engaged for the entire twelve minutes. The original version of “Fratres” was composed in 1977 for string quartet and wind quintet. Aside from the version for violin and piano analyzed in this paper, Pärt arranged five other versions of Fratres. The fact that it has been arranged for so many different instrumentations gives the piece a sort of ethereal quality that is also felt by the mood created in the piece. Through his process of tintinnabulation, Pärt tapped into some mystic bells that transport the listener into a contemplative place through the subtle changes and underlying stationary form and harmonic structure.
Please take note that the audio AND the sheet music ARE NOT mine. Change the quality to a minimum of 480p if the video is blurry.
Original audio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNz3394o3PM
(Performance by: Tasmin Little, accompanied by Martin Roscoe)
Original sheet music: http://www.docfoc.com/248756582-arvo-part-fratres-for-violin-and-piano-full-score-oeei