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One of the first works to come out of Arvo Pärt's now-famous "creative silence" of the mid-1970s was Fratres. Composed in 1977 and first performed by the Estonian early music ensemble Hortus Musicus, Fratres is a pillar of the triad-based "tintinnabulation" style Pärt (b. 1935) developed, influenced by his study of Franco-Flemish Gothic and Renaissance polyphony.
From this work [originally scored for string quintet and wind quintet] have come a number of further expressions of the material for various performing forces - and all titled Fratres. The first of these offspring was a set of variations for violin and piano on the theme of the original Fratres, commissioned by the 1980 Salzburg Festival and premiered by its dedicatees, Gidon and Elena Kremer. [Other versions have been scored for strings and percussion, with and without solo violin, for wind octet and percussion, for string quartet, and for eight cellos.] The six-bar theme is repeated - with a characteristic minimalist emphasis on patterning - and moved to new tonal levels, mostly by thirds. Its melodic structure is developed by gradually adding on new extensions.
The materials are clear and the mechanics transparent, but the effect is far from simplistic. "I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played," Pärt commented at the time. "This one note, or a moment of silence, comforts me. I work with very few elements - with one voice, with two voices. I build with the most primitive materials - with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation."
- John Henken