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Instrumental music by Arvo Pärt
Composed1977 (1977)

Fratres (meaning "brothers" in Latin) is a musical work by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt exemplifying his tintinnabuli style of composition.[1] It is three-part music, written in 1977, without fixed instrumentation and has been described as a “mesmerizing 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".[2]


Structurally, Fratres consists of a set of nine chord sequences, separated by a recurring percussion motif (the so-called "refuge"). The chord sequences themselves follow a pattern, and while the progressing chords explore a rich harmonic space, they have been generated by means of a simple formula.[3]

Fratres is driven by three main voices. The low and high voice are each restricted to playing notes from the D harmonic minor scale (D, E, F, G, A, Bb, C#); the middle voice is restricted to the notes of the A minor triad (A, C, E). The entire piece is accompanied by drones in A and E, which are primarily heard in the refuge between each sequence.

The chords are created by the movement of the three voices: the low voice starts at C#; the high voice starts at E. Both the low and high voices are moved up or down the D harmonic minor scale at the same time, with the direction of the movement depending on the position within the sequence. The middle voice starts at A and plays a different pattern (A, E, E, C, C, C, C, A, A, E, E, C, C, A). The generated chords create harmonic ambiguity, since both C# and C are present, yielding an A major or A minor feel.


Although often performed by violin and piano, versions for larger ensembles, such as a string quartet or chamber orchestra, are also common. Performances by early music specialists have also been endorsed.[4]

Versions for ensembles include:

  • chamber orchestra (1977)
  • four, eight, twelve, etc. cellos (1982)
  • string quartet (1989)
  • winds and percussion octet (1990)
  • string and percussion orchestra (1991)
  • band of metal instruments (2004)
  • three recorders, percussion, and cello or viola da gamba (2009)
  • saxophone quartet (2010)

Versions for solo instrument and accompaniment:

  • violin and piano (1980)
  • cello and piano (1989)
  • violin, string orchestra, and percussion (1992)
  • trombone, string orchestra, and percussion (1993)
  • cello, string orchestra, and percussion (1995)
  • guitar, string orchestra, and percussion (2000)
  • viola and piano (2003)
  • four percussionists (2006)
  • viola, string orchestra, and percussion (2008)

In films[edit]

The composition has been used for many films and documentaries. Notable usages include:

In other compositions[edit]

Jazz pianist Aaron Parks incorporated elements of Fratres into his composition "Harvesting Dance," heard on his album Invisible Cinema and on Terence Blanchard's album Flow.[5]


  1. ^ Zivanovic, Rade (2012). "Arvo Part's Fratres and his Tintinnabuli Technique". hdl:11250/138506. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ Arvo Pärt, Sinfini Music website
  3. ^ Linus Åkesson (2007-12-03). "Fratres". Retrieved 2007-12-03.
  4. ^ "Fratres (concert)". Arvo Part Centre. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
  5. ^ Frank J. Oteri (2014). "Aaron Parks: Make Me Believe A Melody". Retrieved 2014-06-17.

External links[edit]