From 1976 to 1984, the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt kept revising and adjusting a chamber piece he had composed, a piece he had titled: “If Bach had kept bees…”
On today’s date in 1983 one version of this piece—for harpsichord, electric bass guitar, tape and small chamber ensemble—received its premiere performance at a new music festival in Graz, Austria.
Pärt’s chamber work opens like a minimalist piece, with repeated notes perhaps imitating the buzzing of the bees mentioned in the title. What Part meant by “If Bach had kept bees…” is open to various interpretations, but technically speaking, the piece is a slow transformation of an instrumental humming in the key of B-flat into a Bach-like cadence in the key of B-minor.
Was Pärt thinking of Bach’s famous B-minor Mass? Was the mystic and deeply religious-minded Estonian composer suggesting that bees somehow symbolized a harmonious community of God’s creatures? Or was the title, in English at least, a pun on the shifting key of “BEE-flat” to “BEE-minor?”
In any case, this piece was one of several Pärt wrote around that time, all influenced in one way or another by the music of J.S. Bach.
These Bach-collages, as Pärt called them, were “an attempt to replant a flower in alien surroundings, the problem of the suitability of tissue. If they grow together into one, then the transplantation was the right move.”
Music Played in Today's Program
Arvo Pärt (b. 1935)If Bach had Raised BeesPhilharmonia Orchestra; Neeme Järvi, cond.Chandos 9134