Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Arvo Pärt – "Fratres" (1977/1992)

The critics loved Rectify, a four-season television series that aired on the Sundance TV channel between 2013 and 2016.  (You can click here to read the New Yorker’s review of the show.)

In Rectify’s first episode, a thirty-something man from a small Georgia town is released from prison after spending years on death row for the rape and murder of his high-school girlfriend when newly-discovered DNA evidence calls his guilt into question.  

But that DNA evidence doesn’t prove the freed man didn’t commit the murder.  Even he isn’t sure what happened the night the girl was raped and killed.

Here's the trailer for the first season of Rectify:

I’ve watched the first three seasons of the show and I’ll watch season four as soon as my local public library gets it on DVD.  

I don’t love the show, although there are things about it that I like and admire.  On the whole, I recommend it – but it moves very slowly, and I sometimes find it puzzling.  YMMV.

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I had never heard of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt until I watched the season two finale of Rectify, which features his quietly compelling 1977 composition, “Fratres.”

“Fratres” is a purely instrumental composition.  It’s rare that 2 or 3 lines features music without words, but I’m making an exception for “Fratres,” which has been aptly described as “a mesmerising set of variations on a six-bar theme combining frantic activity and sublime stillness that encapsulates Pärt’s observation that ‘the instant and eternity are struggling within us’.”

Pärt calls his approach to composing music “tintinnabulation.”  (A tintinnabulum was a Roman wind chime, and Pärt's music is built around the tones and overtones produced by ringing bells.)  He developed this compositional technique after suffering from writer’s block for several years.   

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt
According to conductor and music writer Paul Hillier, Pärt's tintinnabular music has two types of voice, “the first of which (dubbed the ‘tintinnabular voice’) arpeggiates the tonic triad, and the second of which moves diatonically in stepwise motion.”

It turns out that his music has been used frequently on movie and television soundtracks.  For example, you can hear “Fratres” in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood and Terence Malick’s To the Wonder.

I have to think that whoever chose “Fratres” for Rectify is a Malick fan.  There are many sequences in Malick’s movies (including To the Wonder) that can be described as “dreamlike,” and the same is true of Rectify – including the scene that is accompanied by “Fratres.”  

There are some 17 authorized versions of “Fratres,” each of which features different instrumentation.  For example, there’s the original violin and piano version; a cello and piano version; versions for four, eight or twelve cellos; a version for trombone, strings, and percussion; and a version for saxophone quartet.

The There Will Be Blood soundtrack features the cello and piano version of “Fratres”:

The soundtrack of the last episode of season two of Rectify features the version for solo violin, string orchestra, and percussion:

Click below to buy that version of “Fratres” from Amazon:

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