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Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935)
24 Preludes for a Fugue: film directed by Dorian Supin
Written, directed and filmed by Dorian Supin
24 Preludes for a Fugue [74:00]
Cecilia (extracts of rehearsals) [27:00]
Orchestra and Choir of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Myung-Whun Chung
Your Name [28:00]
(Rehearsals and excerpt from première of ….which was the son of….)
Voices of Europe/Thorgerdur Ingólfsdóttir
Como cierva sedienta [36:00]
Patricia Rozario (soprano), Tallinn Chamber Orchestra/Tönu Kaljuste


This 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.

The 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.

In 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.

Amongst 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.

Indeed, 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.

Equally 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!

On 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.

The 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 featured pieces.

Thoroughly 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.

Gwyn Parry-Jones







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