The Kennedy Center

Piece for 8 Celli and Soprano

About the Work

Arvo Pärt Composer: Arvo Pärt
© Richard E. Rodda

Arvo Pärt, born in Paide, Estonia in 1935, graduated from the Tallinn Conservatory in 1963 while working as a recording director in the music division of the Estonian Radio. A year before leaving the Conservatory, he won first prize in the All-Union Young Composers' Competition for a children's cantata and an oratorio. In 1980, he emigrated to Vienna, where he took Austrian citizenship; since 1982, he has made his home in Berlin.

When Pärt accepted a commission in 2004 from the Octuor de Violoncelles de Beauvais, he found inspiration for the work in the city's Maladrerie Saint-Lazare, which has offered treatment for leprosy since the 12th century; it is the oldest leper ward in northern Europe. Pärt was reminded of a quotation from St. Isaac of Syria, bishop during the 7th century of Nineveh (whose ruins are near present-day Mosul, Iraq), who, when asked what perfect love was, answered: ?That is known to Father Agathon, who was ready to exchange his body for that of a leper.? Pärt found the story of St. Agathon of Egypt in the Bustan al-rohbaan (? The Monks' Garden ?), the Coptic Church's collection of sayings and accounts written by and about the early Christians whose hermitic desert existence helped to establish monasticism. Pärt relates in L'abbe Agathon how the patriarch encountered a leper, carried him to town, did all that he asked, carried him home again, and then had it revealed that the leper was actually an angel sent by God to test him. Agathon was blessed for meeting the challenge.