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President of the Republic at the opening of the Arvo Pärt Centre

Arvo Pärdi keskuse avamisel Laulasmaal.
Opening of the Arvo Pärt Centre in Laulasmaa, Estonia.
© Vabariigi Presidendi Kantselei

13.10.2018

Dear Arvo, Thinking about today while I was far from here, on the other side of the world, I listened to your work Spiegel im Spiegel or Mirror in the Mirror again. This piece, which you wrote 40 years ago on the eve of your involuntary departure, says more in today’s confusingly multipolar world than perhaps ever before. Especially when you happen to be far from home.

I listened to it and thought about the sun illuminating red maple leaves in the Estonian autumn at the very same moment. In my mind’s eye, I saw the ruddy trunks of the pine trees back at home momentarily glowing in the autumn sun before it sinks too low, transforming silence into a song.

Spiegel im Spiegel. Ten minutes of dialogue, questions and answers, repetition, reflection, elucidation and acceptance. Through your music we can experience the multitude of sounds hidden within one carefully considered note. We come to realise that silence says more than verbosity, that determined, constant movement takes us further than restless fidgeting. Your music sharpens our ears until grief turns into comfort and sorrow thaws and gives way to joy. Distance becomes warm closeness.

The world turns and home remains with us, even if reality dictates otherwise. A lonely hotel room becomes a familiar forest. An Estonian bog. A view from the bench next to a shed door, stretching over fields and cairns towards the setting sun.

You and your work play a part in this reflection of the soul, but in reality, it is born anew with each listening, depending on the time, place and mood. This singular piece has tugged on the heartstrings of millions of people on this planet and reminded us that the external hides the internal and that goodness and peace of mind do exist. It has likely encouraged quite a few people to look up Estonia on a map.

But more importantly, it has delivered an understanding that people’s inner desires are universal – they are the same everywhere in the world. This piece becomes everyone’s own: it remains yours, but so many thoughts and feelings emerge from between the sounds that you can no longer consider what happens in the listener’s soul as the composer’s creation.

Naturally, it is indeed your music that fills our soul when we listen to it. You have created billions of variations on this piece in our souls.

The music is so very furtive, as though you don’t want to interrupt the listener’s thoughts, only amplify them, making them somehow more significant and much brighter.

In our noisy, restless world, this centre offers us a place to reflect on silence and stillness. For a moment, you can step off the planet and return later, holding on to your supporting, guiding hand.

We could all use a walk with good-humoured and friendly Arvo Pärt by our side whenever we feel we want to stop the world and get off it for a moment. Holding on to your hand, we can be more or less certain that we can climb back onto that big ball we call home once the moment passes. There is no fear: only peace. Looking from afar, the Earth seems beautiful, clean, unspoilt. The way it no longer is.

The style of your music, Arvo, is often described with the words “bright sadness” and “silence and stillness”.

When we came to see this centre being built – or even grown, as it fits here beneath the canopies of Lohusalu so organically – your busy helpers showed me, Arvo, how your music is born.

Many pieces began from a single word – someone’s need for your music. This word was often followed by a number of others before notes appeared on the sheets of paper arranged in their folders. As time passed, the notes continued to form a somewhat similar pattern, regardless of the piece – the same old cleanliness, emptiness and repetition.

As the pieces progressed towards completion, they gradually became more airy, leaving more and more room for the listener’s thoughts – at least this is how I felt. Luckily, as I browsed the pages, I saw that each piece was completed before the notes vanished completely from the staves.

However, when I looked at those folders, I still felt that this would happen eventually if it was possible to go further. There would be nothing left but a pure thought and complete silence, but it would still be Arvo Pärt’s music.

Standing here in the new home of your music today, it doesn’t seem impossible that you might write such a piece in the future – a piece comprised of sounds so subtle that not a single one of them could stir the listener from their thoughts, only hold a mirror up to their soul.

Perhaps you don’t even need to write such a piece: it already exists in this building. Here, everyone can find a quiet moment to sit down and freely listen to it in their soul.

I recommend giving it a go.

When we come to Lohusalu, you will be here to greet us. However, sometimes you catch us elsewhere, unexpectedly, in the middle of a busy day. This has happened to me. One track. An outstanding Estelon sound system. The daily grind came to a halt, only to resume a few minutes later. I honestly don’t know how much time it took. I honestly don’t remember the title of the piece, either.

I remember hearing the bright voice of a child singing the music of grown-ups. Your music. I’m sure you could tell me which church it was recorded in and what it was called. It certainly wasn’t a studio recording. For some reason I remember that you played the piano yourself during the recording.

The young singer must have drawn courage from your presence. Caught up in the moment of that song, their voice was cheerful, assured, expressing childlike confidence in our world. That was the best possible world.

For a moment, everything in my world became crystal clear. Things fell into place. The thoughts that usually dart around my head like ants slowed and formed a line, as if they had arranged themselves according to the crystal clear page of sheet music written in your hand, full of sounds and yet so clean. I pictured pages from your books of sheet music, the chronicle of the birth of your works.

I don’t recall what happened next. I guess the ants scuttled off the sheet music, the crystal clouded over, the spell was broken – but not really, you see. Something I can’t describe is still with me. Even today.

This is my story of your music. Everyone has their own. I was a little afraid to tell you this, especially with the whole of Estonia listening in. But now I’ve said it. Thank you for listening, Arvo.