Arvo Pärt’s 75th birthday

Arvo Pärt

Photo by Mait Jüriado Some rights reserved

Most of us probably would not have noticed that the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt turns 75 tomorrow. Such a biographical milestone made me consider him in comparison to other twentieth-century composers. According to our guide to selecting works of composers who were born in the late nineteenth or in the twentieth century Pärt is in our top priority of composers at Cambridge University Library’s Music Department, so there should be a lot of works by him in our collection.

We have a good selection of Pärt’s oeuvre, from his op. 10, Perpetuum Mobile for orchestra (1968), at UL MRA.310.95.236, to his Da pacem Domine (2004) in an arrangement for recorder quartet (by Irmhild Beutler and Sylvia Corinna Rosin, 2008), at UL M321.a.200.21 / at Pendlebury 874.E2.P6.

I will admit that I don’t know much about Pärt, but even a very cursory look at our holdings illustrates to me that there is much more to this composer than vocal, sacred music – a genre of music Pärt has been famous for.

A more intriguing issue with this composer is that there are a fair number of arrangements; sometimes, these were done by the composer himself, but there are also a substantial number of arrangers who have changed the instrumentation of the original works. This can, of course, be an indication of a composer’s popularity too: a work is deemed appropriate to be performed in another version than what the composer had originally intended.

The work Fratres is a case in point: originally, Fratres was published for chamber ensemble of early or modern instruments in 1977. Only three years later a version for violin and piano was published, and in 1982 an arrangement was made which can be played by either four, eight or twelve cellos. Another three years later, and Fratres was turned into a string quartet; this version was revised by the composer in 1989. In the same year Dietmar Schwalke set the music for cello and piano, and one year later Beat Briner takes the instrumentation into a different area altogether: a version for wind octet and percussion. This is followed up by Manuel Barrueco with two versions: violin, string orchestra and percussion (1992), and in 2000 Barrueco swapped the violin in favour of a guitar. Finally, in 2006 Vambola Krigul’s version for four percussion players performing Fratres was published.

If you are still not convinced that Pärt is maybe more important than you had previously assumed, consider an international conference at the end of September: Arvo Pärt Conference : Soundtrack of an Age will take place on Friday & Saturday 24 & 25 September 2010 at London’s Southbank Centre. Why not celebrate Pärt’s anniversary by looking at one of his scores? Why not listen to some of his music, and give one of our CDs at the Pendlebury library a spin? It doesn’t have to be Fratres (at Pendlebury CD.N.199), honestly.


About cg474

Since August 2010 I have worked as a librarian at the University of Cambridge (Cambridge, UK). Between August 2010 and November 2013 I was the Deputy Head of Music at Cambridge University Library and at the Pendlebury Library of Music. Between December 2013 and September 2015 I was the Librarian at the Marshall Library of Economics. Since October 2015 I have been the Librarian at the Divinity Library.
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