Saturday 22 February 2014

The power of teaching

A couple of years ago I heard somebody on BBC Radio 3 expressing his surprise, as he went over the music of Benjamin Britten, that so few notes could make such a beautiful sound. Somebody else who knows about how to produce amazing sounds with very few notes is Arvo Pärt. Pärt is an Estonian composer and I came to his music through the music of Heino Eller, his teacher in Tallinn.

Heino Eller in 1965

Most recently, I bought a CD with Pärt's 3rd Symphony and I was astonished how strikingly similar it sounds to Eller's Neenia. This is confusing since Eller composed his piece around 1928 whilst Pärt's 3rd Symphony stems from his romantic/minimalist writing in the 1970s.

One reason may be the transformative and suggestive power of Eller's compositions, another may simply be its Estonian rootedness, which Pärt came to value and revive from 1970 onwards. Whatever the cause of this similarity, it reflects the strong influence Eller must have had on Pärt.

Lucky those who live on in their student's work!

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