The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS – Arvo Part’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” | September 1, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Maybe I missed it.

Or maybe my memory doesn’t serve me well.

But I can’t recall hearing either choral or instrumental music by Arvo Part in a live performance in Madison.

That’s too bad. The music by the 79-year-old composer (below), who was born in Estonia and now resides in Germany, is quite lovely. Plus, programming a popular contemporary composer might just draw in some new audiences.

But it is the same story for Philip Glass, who is perhaps the most performed living composer but whose works are rarely heard in Madison.

Arvo Part

Anyway, here is something of a miniature. It is called “Spiegel im Spiegel” and is usually translated as “Mirror in Mirror” to suggest the endless reflections you get if you put mirrors opposite each other.

It is a lovely piece, which possesses a minimalism and a certain kind of Asian austerity to it. It seems “reflective” also in the calm and meditative sense. You can hear how Gregorian chant influenced Arvo Part’s own style.

The work must be popular somewhere because there are many arrangements of it for viola, cello and harp.

The YouTube video at the bottom features the original scoring of solo violin with piano accompaniment. The musicians are violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and pianist Reiko Uchida in a live performance.

The Ear thinks it is a MUST-HEAR piece and hopes that you enjoy it — and that maybe it will convince some local individuals and ensembles to perform more music by Arvo Part.



  1. “However, for the pieces we’re talking about – modern repertoire for larger ensembles – this is illegal. Rental fees are for performance rights for a specific group, venue, and date. If this consortium were to rent, say, Pärt’s “Tabula Rasa,” it would be for a specific period (a few weeks, usually) and a specific performance, after which the music must be sent back to the publisher. It is not permissible to share it, nor to use those parts for a performance other than the one for which the rental contract is made out.”

    Understood. But you are talking about rentals. You are right and thanks for that.

    But I could see the same groups getting together and BUYING the sheet music under an umbrella organization, each paying a percentage based on their size and use of it. I doubt that “cooperative ownership” would be illegal under copyright provisions, because each group has paid something for use. I also doubt that the copyright holder would be offended because this approach would generate fees for them.

    Comment by fflambeau — September 6, 2015 @ 9:15 pm

    • You cannot buy the sheet music for these pieces. It is not for sale. Performance materials for this repertoire can ONLY be rented. As I said, local organizations can and do share parts for music for which parts can be purchased, but music that is rented is typically rental-only. Pärt’s “Tabula Rasa” was my example below, but I could just as easily have chosen Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915,” John Luther Adams’ “Become Ocean,” Britten’s “Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings,” Jennifer Higdon’s “blue cathedral,” or just about any other orchestra piece written after 1923 (with some exceptions for Soviet composers that I won’t get into). For this music – the modern repertoire we’re talking about – you CANNOT purchase parts. It is not possible. Publishers do not sell them. Parts are only legally obtainable through a rental contract for a fixed period and a specified performance. Hope that clarifies the matter.

      Comment by Mikko Utevsky — September 6, 2015 @ 11:19 pm

      • Thanks for that Mr. Utevsky. Yes, it clarifies the matter. It sounds like a feudalistic, guild system.

        Comment by fflambeau — September 6, 2015 @ 11:46 pm

  2. Oh, and Part gets played with some frequency at the UW in recitals – Thalia Coombs (MM violin ’15) played “Fratres” in spring of ’14. Student recitals and ensemble concerts are generally a good place to hear the unfamiliar – I can recall performances of Hindemith, Kodaly, Avni, Kahn, Schreker, Schulhoff, Clarke, Alma Mahler, Britten, Heggie, Feldman, J.L. Adams, Cage, Penderecki, Cowell, Ben Davis, Lori Laitman, Lee Hoiby, and Xenakis without hardly pausing between names to think – and that’s just within the last three years. And I would be remiss if I did not mention Clocks In Motion, having named six composers whose music I’ve heard them play in that list (plus Anthony Lanman, Jeff Gibbens, Charles Wuorinen, Herbert Brun, Mark Mellits, Filippo Santoro, Thomas Lang, and many more).

    There is new music in Madison, just not at the MSO. And I’ll grant, not nearly enough – but keep looking, and contact the ensembles you’d like to hear playing it. The MSO might respond if people start asking to hear commissions or living composers, whereas all anyone in the comments here can do is nod (or write chapter-length essays in reply, apparently).

    Comment by Mikko Utevsky — September 3, 2015 @ 1:00 am

    • Thanks for this and your other detailed comment about the costs of scores. These posts are most informative.

      Query: would it be possible for smaller groups to band together and create a library of shared musical shares?

      Each would contribute some $$ according to their means and uses. This is done, pretty much, by libraries. I do not believe it would be a violation of copyright law if these entities then shared and exchanged scores (since all have paid something for them).

      Comment by fflambeau — September 4, 2015 @ 1:55 am

      • For works that are available for purchase (mostly those in the public domain – pre-1923), most local groups can and do freely lend and borrow amongst each other. My own orchestra has used parts for such works from the libraries of the UW Symphony, the WCO, WYSO, and Middleton High School. The Middleton Community Orchestra routinely borrows from the UW.

        However, for the pieces we’re talking about – modern repertoire for larger ensembles – this is illegal. Rental fees are for performance rights for a specific group, venue, and date. If this consortium were to rent, say, Pärt’s “Tabula Rasa,” it would be for a specific period (a few weeks, usually) and a specific performance, after which the music must be sent back to the publisher. It is not permissible to share it, nor to use those parts for a performance other than the one for which the rental contract is made out.

        Comment by Mikko Utevsky — September 4, 2015 @ 10:23 pm

  3. I would like to thank Mr. Steve Kurr for providing professional insights into the question of the costs of music/scores. See his reply to comment #3 above.

    This is an important question because it touches on the affordability of performances and programming and in turn, the availability of certain kinds of music and composers to the public. Perhaps the web master could devote an entire column to it?

    Mr. Kurr mentions that in the case of someone like Arvo Part, the musical scores, especially for larger groups (orchestral) are quite high and that he spent much of his budget just renting the scores (not buying them) for a recent performance.

    That point is well taken. And it is reflected in the prices over at (an online web site where it is possible to buy scores). Instrumental scores there, as he mentions, are not very costly (to buy) and are in the 10 to 12 pound range. However, I see that the price for the composer’s first symphony (an orchestral piece) jumps to almost 41 pounds. So Mr. Kurr is correct about this.

    Query: would a direct appeal to Mr Part work? He is, I understand, a music professor living in Germany. The appeal would be along the lines of : “Sir, we are a small orchestral group without the financing abilities of the Berlin Philharmonic or the LSO; we like your music and would love to perform it but renting the sheet music for our orchestra let alone buying it, is very expensive for a smallish group such as our own with limited financial resources. Do you have any suggestions or could you make available to us some lower cost music for the orchestra?”

    Is an approach along these lines foolish ? I suspect it might work and perhaps might even provide some good publicity for a group trying it. I doubt that Arvo Part is in music to make a vast fortune (but his music sheet publishing company likely is).

    Secondly, are there no organizations out there (foundations and the like) that would be willing to pick up the tab to either buy or rent such music?

    What about patrons of the group? Do they know about this problem? I suspect that most people who are not professionals do not realize this is a big program for smaller groups with low budgets. Certainly more educating of the public on this important point could not hurt.

    Again, thanks to Mr. Steve Kurr for his contributions.

    Comment by fflambeau — September 2, 2015 @ 10:00 pm

    • Most composers, particularly the famous ones (like Arvo Part) either can’t or won’t waive rental fees for published works. Cecilia McDowall was gracious enough to do so for MAYCO’s US Premiere performance of “Rain, Steam and Speed” in June, but only because it is currently unpublished – once she signs over the rights to Oxford to print it, she loses control of rental costs.

      I do want to clarify something regarding those costs, since I’m not sure it’s entirely clear from Steve’s comments.

      The prices you are looking at are for chamber works. Those, and choral music, are typically purchased, as are scores to many orchestral works. The PARTS for those works, however, are not available for purchase, and must be rented for a limited term from the published for a variable rate depending on the renting organization’s finances and legal status, the audience size, the concert ticket cost, and a variety of other factors. It’s not unusual for this to run about $500 for a single performance by a small student orchestra of a work less than 15 minutes in length. For larger ensembles, those not sponsored by a university, concerts with higher ticket prices, repeat performances, or longer pieces, they go up from there rapidly.

      And, of course, the sites you mention where scores by living composers can be had for free are engaging in illegal activity. It goes without saying that even if one were to procure music in such a manner, it could not be publicly performed without risking lawsuit – rental fees are paying for performance rights, not merely the physical printed material.

      At the risk of droning on, I should add that your odds of hearing something other than retrod warhorses is exponentially higher with any local ensemble other than the MSO (which seems to have the most conservative subscriber base, making newer music a financial risk for other reasons than rental fees). Andrew Sewell at WCO reliably discovers unusual and unheard curiosities, with a pretty good rate of success (the string music of Vittorio Giannini comes to mind in recent seasons). The Pro Arte Quartet regularly performs unusual or nonstandard repertoire, its Centennial Commissions series being a major step in that direction in the last few years, and many of the older less-heard works they perform were written for older incarnations of the quartet (works of Bloch and Milhaud, for example). The UW Symphony and Chamber Orchestra are also reliable in this regard – this season, you can hear the Gliere Concerto for Coloratura Soprano, for example, Josef Suk’s Serenade for Strings, and Stravinsky’s “Apollon Musagete.” And of course, duty demands I include my own ensemble (, which has presented four world premieres in as many years, as well as one US premiere and one Madison premiere (the last of a Haydn symphony, no less!). Yes, the MSO needs to get back into the new-music world – but if you want to hear new things, they’re here for you. Just keep your ears open.

      Comment by Mikko Utevsky — September 3, 2015 @ 12:48 am

      • Thanks for your keen insights; especially into the costs of the music. Most of us in the public, I would think, did not realize this.

        You are also correct in naming the names of many groups in the area who do perform works other than the standard repertoire. And those that just continue the old same same!

        Yes, let’s hope that changes at MSO. Kudos to those individuals and groups that are playing music that is not “top 40” classical music.

        Comment by fflambeau — September 3, 2015 @ 10:32 pm

  4. Good morning! My dad sang with ellsworth snyder’s choir at First Unitarian back in the late 80’s and 90’s. I’m quite sure ellsworth had the choir perform a piece by Part during that period. Can’t check with them, but I think I’ll do a little research and try to figure out what they sang. In any case, you’re right! Part should be heard! Thanks for your message… Marjie Marion

    Comment by Marjie — September 2, 2015 @ 7:28 am

  5. Good morning, Jake–thank you for sharing this lovely piece. Just to add: Bruce Bengtson programs music of Arvo Part fairly frequently at Luther Memorial Church.

    Comment by David Susan — September 1, 2015 @ 8:12 am

    • I can attest to this fact. We did “Which Was the Son of” for All Saints Eve a few years back.

      Comment by Rebecca Forbes Wank — September 1, 2015 @ 4:10 pm

      • Great to hear this, R. F. Wank.

        If you read the other comments in this sections, there is one comment indicating that one of the reasons for Arvo Part’s being played so seldom is that sheet music for him is expensive and for rental only.

        Since your group performed his works, how did you get around “this problem”?

        Since there any number of web sites that seem to offer his music for SALE and even some that encourage trading other scores for his music free, I suspect this “reason” is more of an excuse than anything else.

        Comment by fflambeau — September 1, 2015 @ 11:46 pm

  6. The Edgewood Chamber Orchestra has done a fair bit of Part in the past, as their conductor (Blake Walter) did his graduate work on the composer. My high school had performed Silouan’s Song, a wonderful and powerful work for strings. Part’s style in that work is called Tintinabulus, and refers to the concept that the chordal accompaniment is played in a manner that imitates bells being played–each accompanying instrument moves around from pitch to pitch within the chord.
    One reason that Part is not performed often is that all of his music is rental-only and very expensive. But is worth the expense.

    Comment by Steve Kurr — September 1, 2015 @ 6:32 am

    • Hi

      I am curious about your remark that “One reason…Part is not performed often…all of his music is rental-only and very expensive.”

      I’ve looked at the Internet and seen some of his music available FOR SALE for what appears to be pretty reasonable prices ($15.00 and on some sites 12 pounds and on some sites free downloads).

      Could you elaborate and respond?

      Here is one such web site selling his musical scores:

      Or is only a limited amount of his work available for sale?

      Comment by fflambeau — September 1, 2015 @ 9:35 pm

      • Here’s another web site that seems to offer free musical scores (for this composer and many others, by way of sharing other scores) with other musical enthusiasts:

        Included are several users who claim to have the scores for this exact piece, Spiegel Im Spiegel.

        I’m not pulling your chain, Mr. Kerr, I’m just wondering if there is some gimmick here or what? Are these web sites unreliable, frauds or what?

        Comment by fflambeau — September 1, 2015 @ 9:45 pm

      • First, I would say that the cheaper music is for small groups, like violin with piano. I was speaking of orchestral works. Second, I would be careful of any site offering Part for free. He is a copyrighted composer and free is not going to happen for him. Third, a score being available is a method for conductors to peruse the works before renting. Many Part scores are available for purchase.
        When we performed, we bit the bullet and rented. But that was much of my sheet music budget for the year.

        Comment by Steve Kurr — September 2, 2015 @ 4:52 pm

  7. Here’s another under performed and under played composer who deserves a better lot:

    Sir Arnold Bax (early 20th century British composer).

    His “Tintangel” is truly evocative of the sea off of Cornwall (perhaps more so than Debussy’s “La Mer”).

    Also worth recommending is his 3rd Symphony which opens with a lovely bassoon part.

    Comment by fflambeau — September 1, 2015 @ 4:26 am

  8. To the list of those locally who are not only making commendable music but teaching and enlightening the public, leading them into new areas and new music, I should have added the magnificent music coming out of the Token Creek festival and its award winning musical director, John Harbison,

    And of course, there is the wonderful work constantly being done at UW Madison in the School of Music.

    Otherwise–for a city that is known to be a leader in the avant garde in almost all areas–there seems to be a paucity of effort in this area. The MSO, which used to be a leader in commissioning new works, has not, to my knowledge, done so for decades.

    Comment by fflambeau — September 1, 2015 @ 3:55 am

  9. Delightful. I had not heard of this composer before but his music in the attached YouTube is lovely; thanks for this.

    The truth is, there are boatloads of composers–past (A. Corelli, for instance) and present–who deserve more playing time and more performances. What stands in the way is the drab and uncreative mentality that envelopes many in the classical music world (especially it seems, the people in charge of programming) who seem to think that only the historic “greats” (Beethoven and the “usual suspects”) need attention.

    If someone is interested in great music, contemporary and past, I suggest:

    1) looking at the career and recording of Gerard Schwarz, past conductor at Seattle and now in North Carolina. He was and remains a huge proponent of the American/Armenian composer Alan Hovhaness, one of our greatest composers. Check out Hovhaness at YouTube (there’s much more to him that “Mysterious Mountain”).

    2) also look at the career of Marin Alsop, now conducting in Baltimore. She has turned in some wonderful performances and recordings of Bernstein, Barber, Copland, J. Higdon and more. She likely is being considered for the top spot in NYC now. She, like Schwarz, is able to mix the “greats” with other terrific music (and it sells).

    3) another similar conductor, sadly no longer with us, was the amazing Serge Koussevitsky at the BSO. He championed modern and underplayed music for decades while in Boston.

    Here are some works that he premiered in concert:

    Alexander Scriabin, Prometheus: The Poem of Fire, Moscow, March 2, 1911
    Maurice Ravel’s orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Paris, October 19, 1922
    Sergei Prokofiev, First Violin Concerto with Marcel Darrieux as soloist, Paris, October 18, 1923
    Prokofiev, Second Symphony, Paris, June 6, 1925
    Prokofiev, Fourth Symphony, Boston, November 14, 1930
    George Gershwin, Second Rhapsody, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Hall, Boston, 29 January 1932
    Béla Bartók, Concerto for Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Hall, Boston, December 1, 1944
    Samuel Barber, Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Eleanor Steber as soloist, Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1948
    Leonard Bernstein, The Age of Anxiety, Leonard Bernstein as soloist, Tanglewood, 1949
    Aaron Copland, Appalachian Spring (suite) Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1945
    Arnold Bax, Symphony No.2, Boston, December 13, 1929

    Many of these pieces, like the Bartok, are now considered part of the standard repertoire.

    In a similar vein, one should look at the entire program at Tanglewood (Mr. K’s invention) over the past 75 years. It is something to be hugely proud of.

    4) yet another amazing conductor out there is Leon Botstein, who I believe you did a recent story on in this very blog. He too has some wonderful recordings and performances of hidden gems and has some delightful and thoughtful commentary on the same.

    Unfortunately, locally, in Madison, there is probably too much adherence to the “greats” notion (namely, Beethoven, Bach, Handel, Haydn and Mozart). There is nothing wrong with this music. But why not some pieces from even those “greats” that is not heard so frequently? And why not great music by people outside this list?

    Only Bach Dynamite and Dancing, to me, has broken out of that sterile mould, and presents truly fascinating programs, often mixing “the Greats” with others.

    Comment by fflambeau — September 1, 2015 @ 3:07 am

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