DVD about Arvo Pärt is timely, because the composer is seventy
years old this year. It is also a delightful and rich experience,
consisting as it does of four sections, each giving us an
insight into the man and his work. The films are by Dorian
Supin, a director who is exceptionally sensitive to music,
and he has shown admirable restraint and simplicity of approach,
in keeping with his subject.
DVD will serve a particularly important purpose for music-lovers
who are drawn towards Pärt’s music, but may still have questions
that they need answered. How sincere, how serious
is the creator of this often mystifyingly spare, self-effacing
music? Am I being ‘duped’ when I respond to its austerity
and strange beauty? How skilled is this composer – is he
just some kind of ‘idiot savant’ whose jottings have to
be painstakingly unravelled by more ‘competent’ musicians?
All of these perfectly natural and valid musings are answered
in a wholly positive way by these wonderful documents.
24 Preludes for a Fugue, Dorian has been daring and
unconventional. Yet the outcome is so much more telling
than a typical documentary or ‘biopic’ could have been,
given the nature of his subject. What he has done is to
simply point the camera in the general direction of Pärt
in a number of different situations; some musical, some
domestic, some public, some private. The result is a rich
and touching collage, rather like home movies. The highest
compliment one can give, though, is that, by the end of
the DVD, one feels almost as though one has met the composer,
and spent a refreshing yet strangely bracing couple of hours
in his presence.
the most compelling tracks are those where Pärt reminisces,
with touching or humorous stories, about his own experiences
learning the piano, or teachers who helped him so much (“She
was an angel. Every time when I went home she gave me a
bar of chocolate”). He tells of asking a janitor, while
waiting for a bus, “How should a composer write music?”
And the janitor, momentarily and understandably stumped
by such a question, answered bravely “He should love each
sound”. Pärt clearly squirreled away all such thoughts,
pondered on them long and deep. And it is not difficult
to see the impact that has had on his music.
everything about Pärt seems completely in accord with the
nature of his music. In demeanour, he is not so much monk-like
as unassuming in the way of a gentle village schoolteacher.
He has great humour – one or two of his anecdotes are delightfully
funny, bringing out his diffident little chuckle - and an
unforced compassion. Yet there is an overwhelming sense
of purpose and unforced authority about him too. Just like
his music, which often sidles up to you, but refuses to
let you go until it has reached its inevitable resting place.
instructive are the excerpts from the rehearsals for the
première of his 2000 work Cecilia, vergine romana. These
are not happy sessions; the choir are struggling with the
music, and Myung-Whun Chung, the conductor, is grim and
negative. He seems torn between the perceived inadequacies
of the choir and the ceaseless eye for detail of the composer,
who keeps popping up with requests and suggestions. Such
are (very often) the birth pangs of new music!
the other hand, the film of the Voices of Europe – a youth
choir drawn from nine nations – learning the work Pärt composed
for them in 2000, ….which was the son of…, a light-hearted
piece with a distant gospel flavour, is pure delight. The
composer is clearly at home amongst these youngsters, and
the bit of film of him autographing their vocal scores shows
him at his most happy and relaxed.
DVD is completed, appropriately, with a complete performance,
that of a work for soprano and orchestra, Como cierva sediente. This is a recording of the première in
Tallinn, and shows the new and more complex period that his music
has moved into in recent years. It would, however, have
been useful to have had the text of this and the other two
recommended; the subtitles make it easy to track the multi-lingual
conversations – though zero points to the translator
who doesn’t know that fagott is the German for bassoon,
and misspells it too! – and the booklet contains some interesting
information about the 24 Preludes for a Fugue.