Arvo Part In Conversation
Book Review By Willard Manus

The Estonian-born Arvo Part is one of the world's most daring and remarkable composers, a man whose work has captivated both audiences and critics for the past forty years. After immersing himself in the avant-garde theories of the 20th century--notably Schoenberg's twelve-tone system--Part turned to religious subjects in the 1960s. This was followed by works that came out of his studies in medieval and Renaissance polyphony, works that he kept refining and simplifying in minimalist fashion over the years to come. The result was tonal music that seemed to hit the "right notes" and deeply affect those who heard it, resulting in CD sales in the millions.

Now the normally reticent and self-effacing composer has opened up by sitting for interviews with several European musicologists in ARVO PART IN CONVERSATION (Dalkey Archive Press). Originally published in Italian on the occasion of a major festival of Part's works in Turin, the book, which has been translated by Robert Crow, contains an in-depth interview with Part (by Enzo Restagno), plus analytic essays by Leopold Brauneiss and Saale Kaeda, and two speeches by Part himself.

The portrait that emerges from these pages is an unforgettable one. Everything Part says about music and composing, about life and death, good and evil, is learned and deeply felt. Here he is, for example, on the struggle he went through to find his own musical path:

"I have come to recognise that it is not my duty to struggle with the world, nor to condemn this or that, but first and foremost to know myself, since every conflict begins within ourselves. That does not mean that I am indifferent, but if someone wants to change the world he must begin with himself. I am absolutely convinced of this. If one does not begin with oneself, every step toward the world will be nothing but a big lie and at the same time an attack, and this hidden aggressiveness tends to go on spreading. How to do this is quite a different story, but if one starts off with this idea, everything else appears in a new light. And so I set off in search of new sounds. The path no longer runs outwards from us, but inwards, to the core from which everything springs. That is what all my actions have come to mean: building and not destroying."

Readers of the book would do well to have some of Part's recorded music at hand; without it it's not easy to fully comprehend the composer's complex musical theories.