Between Two Sounds

Arvo Pärt’s Journey to His Musical Language

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Pub Date Sep 03 2024 | Archive Date Sep 03 2024
Plough Publishing | Plough Publishing House

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Between Two Sounds follows the life of world-famous composer Arvo Pärt from his birth in Estonia in 1935 through 1980, when the Soviets forced him to emigrate because of the nonconformist and religious nature of his music.

Based on years of research and close collaboration with Arvo Pärt himself, Joonas Sildre paints an atmospheric portrait of a restless artist who does not shy away from confronting state control or his own internal contradictions. 

Arvo Pärt stormed Soviet-occupied Estonia's music scene in the 1960s as a brash young man pushing the limits of avant-garde modernism. Then he fell silent, no longer able to express what he felt through the musical language he had inherited. When he reemerged a decade later, he had found, in that silence between sounds, a new musical language inspired by ancient sacred music, the basis of his distinctive tintinnabuli technique. This graphic novel will appeal not just to fans of Arvo Pärt’s music but to anyone who has known the struggle to remain true to oneself whatever the cost.

Between Two Sounds follows the life of world-famous composer Arvo Pärt from his birth in Estonia in 1935 through 1980, when the Soviets forced him to emigrate because of the nonconformist and...

Advance Praise

"Joonas Sildre employs an imaginative and narrative force in his clear, reduced images – images that exploit empty space in the way Arvo Pärt’s music exploits silence." —Nick Sternitzke, WRD 3

"This book is an invitation to understand Arvo Pärt and his seemingly simple compositions, which have baffled the music critics but cast a spell over audiences." —Ralf Julke, Leipziger Zeitung

"This extraordinary book, with its interplay of calm and dynamic, goes along well with Pärt’s music. It brings fans closer to Arvo Pärt as a person and will make the uninitiated curious." —Dorothea Husslein, SWR 2

“For fans a thoroughly successful homage and for others a very good introduction that invites you to step into the magical cathedrals of Pärt’s music.” —Thomas Böhm, Radio Eins

"Sildre finds exciting ways to graphically depict music that shouldn’t be missed." —Casten Jaehner, Comic Couch

"Pärt seeks silence in music, and Sildre creates this silence in the pictures." —Gregor Lilla, Élet és Irodalom

"Joonas Sildre employs an imaginative and narrative force in his clear, reduced images – images that exploit empty space in the way Arvo Pärt’s music exploits silence." —Nick Sternitzke, WRD 3


Marketing Plan

  • The Arvo Pärt Centre will promote the book
  • Events in conjunction with the US Estonian community
  • Feature in Plough Quarterly, circulation 16,000
  • Featured on Plough’s website, 500,000 monthly visitors
  • National publicity campaign
  • The Arvo Pärt Centre will promote the book
  • Events in conjunction with the US Estonian community
  • Feature in Plough Quarterly, circulation 16,000
  • Featured on Plough’s website, 500,000 monthly...

Available Editions

EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9781636081342
PRICE $26.00 (USD)

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Average rating from 23 members

Featured Reviews

Between Two Sounds is wonderfully stylish, inviting, and a great use of the comics form. I appreciated both the design and narrative in this book.

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Between Two Sounds was a nice introduction to the life of Estonian composer
Arvo Pärt. I enjoyed the minimalist drawing style approach to the graphic novel. Not knowing anything about the composer going in, this book is a good starting point to learning more about the composer.

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A really beautiful graphic biography of Arvo Pärt and his exploration of Christianity. The musical theme is translated visually in fun ways, including simple colors and the repeated visual dot theme. I am so glad that this translation from Estonian to English has made it accessible to me. Now excuse me while I go listen to some of his music...

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I know very little about Estonia or the majority of composers out there. Between Two Sounds introduces you to a bit of both in a simple yet engaging way. Being a graphic novel allows it to focus more on how events shaped and affected Arvo Pärt rather than his trajectory as a composer getting lost within the historical events (WWII, Soviet rule). I paired reading this with listening to some of his pieces which I felt enhanced both the writing and the music.

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i have never heard of arvo pärt before this arc but i always like learning about new things and people , so getting this arc (thank you netgalley and publisher) was so much fun! it’s like!a history lesson! with a sound track! me encanta! and the fact that it’s illustrated too the art is incredible! i loved every second of reading this!

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Between Two Sounds is a graphic novel that tells the story of renowned Estonian Composer Arvo Part. Part is the 2nd most performed contemporary classical music composer behind John Williams. Readers don’t need to be classical music aficionados to leave this graphic novel with a deeper sense of the music and cultural zeitgeists which swept mid-20th century art. The book revolves around Part’s musical, artistic, and spiritual passage to the development of a new, classical music sound- tintinnabula. Part’s development of a compositional and performance style, with is based on minimalist compositions. Readers are introduced to music rooted in early Christian/religious music, particularly Gregorian Chants. His development of this style was based on his mystical journey-which mirror the journeys of early Eastern Orthodox Christian mystics. comprised of 3 stages=purgative, illuminative, unitive. The last step requires a “leap of faith” where the mystic sojourner, trusting in God and the universe, gathers his faith and casts himself into the “musical” and artistic abyss. The book charts his journey to this style and his “sound” through personal and professional trials-which include a physical illness which requires a restrictive diet and is physically painful and exhausting. Professionally, he can’t get on board with Soviet Orthodoxy or take “god” out of his compositions. He’s unable to comply with the Soviet Block’s artistic stylistic preferences-nationalistic, sufficiently “of the people”, and martial. Eventually, tiring of his continued antics, the Soviet Union expels him to Israel-his wife is ethnically Jewish. After living abroad, Part is finally invited back to his beloved Estonia, and his style is celebrated. Slidre uses the graphic novel format to deal with complex ideas and themes including cultural pride, love of country, religion-mystic journeys, cultural impact of socialism and Soviet consolidation. The format is perfect to develop the framework-use of deft illustration explores these ideas (with, ironically minimal text at key junctures). Excellent not only as a reference source for younger readers, but as an overview of the importance of culture ways and religion. The historical changes brought by the Soviet Bloc are a bonus by product of this approach. Teaching institutions, libraries, cultural centers, collections focused on Spiritual journeys would benefit from the inclusion of this book.

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Between Two Sounds by Joonas Sildre, 224 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL, BIOGRAPHY. Plough Publishing House, 2024. $26.
Language: G (0 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content: G; Violence: PG
Arvo Pärt, world-famous Estonian composer, studied and wrote in a Soviet environment. Those circumstances hindered his ability to be heard, but did not change his ability to compose according to the ways he felt inspired. Ignoring those who would silence him, Pärt continued to chase his dreams to create.
In this graphic novel biography, readers get to see the sounds that affected Pärt and how his compositions affected his audiences in a way that teased my eyes into hearing the music throughout the book. The illustrations and overall message are inspiring, though the story itself feels choppy as readers jump through scenes of highs and lows in Pärt’s life.
Most of the characters are Estonian. The violence rating is for mentions of war and bombs.
Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen

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The narrative is a bit choppy, but the art more than makes up for it; Sildre's use of line to evoke music is exquisite.

Received via NetGalley.

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Although we are learning about the life of a composer, he speaks in a more general way about the creative process. We experience the lows and the highs, we see the birth of inspiration. And for reading, it is recommended that we listen to his music, which makes this already gripping comic even more atmospheric.
I really liked the visual world, the drape colour gives it a kind of sepia tone. Only the portrayal of the music was more captivating. The notes, the five lines and the melody rush across the page in places, while in others the harmony makes a big impression. As a musician, I particularly liked these parts.

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Interesting graphic approach to a musical biography. The art is effective in giving a sense of the minimalistic composer's style, though listening to the music is also highly recommended! Pärt's spiritual journey and brave standing up for his beliefs was also movingly portrayed. Recommended as a unique window into history and into music.

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* Introduction of a brilliant musician to English-language readers
* Blending of biography and history and philosophy
* Whimsical artistic illustrations
* Time moves very quickly. Some chapters seem underdeveloped

Thank you to Joonas Sildre, Adam Cullen (translator), Plough Publishing House, and NetGalley for an advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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One of the awkward things with doing a graphic novel about a musical person is portraying music. Here, too, you have a kind of religious epiphany to get on the page. Well, the music in this look at Estonian Part (can't do accents) is like a weight on a pendulum, but horizontal – like a ball of mystical energy guiding its stave-like line across the scene. It's always over people's heads, but it gets to touch them. And when an early Part piece is performed by the orchestra concerned the balls are clearly weaponised – this before he matures, finds Gregorian plainchant, researches early church music as much as he can in an officially atheist state, and sees the intervals between the notes of as much import as the notes themselves.

Reading this is like seeing a movie with mute on, for you never really get that much semblance of what his sounds are like, even if it's 'personified' very well with the fluid stave-like things I mentioned. But at least we can google such stuff, and at least we don't have a Basil Exposition to tell his fellow concert-goer, in lieu of telling us, what he'd just heard. This is a fuller biography than just the works, though – all the illuminating tutors, all the set-backs and resulting cartoon soundtracks, all the influences from those ahead of him in Estonian musical hierarchy – this is all there too. He asks a street worker (not that kind, a snow-shoveller) how to compose. A girl suggests he thank God for the times his creativity does not work.

It's pretty readable stuff, mind, and never once seemed wordy. I would hazard a guess that, even with it being about a rarefied subject, the general stereotypical Clapham Omnibus reader would gain something from a browse. Fans will have a greater chance of recognising the text as his quoted words or otherwise, and all will see this as a story of a man who had to battle his state's religion, his expected place in musical society and his own self to get to where he has been these last few decades. This could have been a verbose plod, but instead is a lively study of a man, and whether you know every note of his or none the quality here is quite evident. A strong four stars.

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From a very young age, Arvo Part showed a propensity for music, and while he didn't do well in most classes, he excelled at music and soon rose to prominence at his music schools. He served in the military for a time and experienced some setbacks with his health. Eventually, he began work composing pieces that were both novel and true to what he really wanted to say, despite negative feedback from the political and cultural gatekeepers.

This story is easy to read and told well in graphic novel format. While it was quite impossible to keep all the characters straight (despite the convenient cast of characters in the back of the book), it was not difficult to understand the undercurrent of need that drove Arvo to continue to create and compose. The story is biased, of course, but it also feels very open to differing viewpoints. I was left curious about a few things, but I felt satisfied with the ending. The religious references felt essential and not overpowering, showing the link between faith and inspiration in Part's work. Overall, this isn't a terribly exciting novel, but it does a satisfactory job showing historical fact and creating an authentic mood.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC. All opinions are my own.

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I didn't know who Arvo Pärt was before reading this book. In fact, I didn't know any Estonian composers. This graphic novel goes through his life, his thoughts and his way of understanding music. In the context of the Soviet Union, it also portrays the censorship that most artists suffered during that time. I found this to be quite an interesting read, since I love learning about topics I don't know much about. Still, I also found it a little bit dense sometimes, and I maybe would have enjoyed knowing more about his personal life (how he felt about his children, etc.). One thing I really appreciated is how music and sounds are graphically included in the book.

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Between Two Sounds: Arvo Pärt’s Journey to His Musical Language (2024) by Joonas Sildre, is a wonderful graphic biography of an quietly astonishing minimalist classical composer. In a world of increasing (maximalist) noise and terror, he calls us forth to get small, listen, be still. I am familiar with his story and music thanks to a friend, T, so I especially enjoyed it. I also am a proponent of less is more, except in my long reviews, of course.

Arvo Pärt is a (formerly Soviet) Estonian composer who, because of restrictions by the Soviet government, was discouraged from composing and performing what were perceived to be “modernist” (non-conformist) (classical) music, and religious music, so he also composed music for film and the stage. He was born in 1935 and is as of today 88 years old. This graphics biography highlights a turning point in the seventies when Pärt’s work turned more minimalist, his music focusing on the production of sound, or more pointedly, the moment a note is played, when there is that silence “between two sounds” which I take to be a constructivist principle, where the listener co-constructs the music. He was inspired by his secret exploration of early music from the Renaissance.

You never heard of him? From 2011 to 2018, and again in 2022, Pärt was the most performed living composer in the world, and the second most performed in 2019, after John Williams. The Arvo Pärt Centre, in Laulasmaa, was opened to the public in 2018.
The challenge in a musician biography is of course that the artist must convey the sound on the page, and Sildre does this playfully, attempting to capture the passionate intensity of Part’s experience with sound and music. He leaves a lot of space on the page, in keeping with Pärt ‘s minimalism, for us to breathe and reflect with him.

“You must treat every sound as if it were a human soul.”
“Sound exists. Man is a mediator, not a creator.”
“Wisdom lies in reduction.”
“You work on yourself and the composition follows.”

Renunciation, order, purity. Pärt heard the Gregorian chants for the first time and it opened up avenues for him compositionally and spiritually. He was exiled for many years but was not really a dissident, and when Soviet rule finally ended, he and his wife returned to Estonia to live. I connect his minimalism with Thomas Merton’s Trappist vow of silence. And his creative impulse in a leap of faith to Kierkegaard.

“Words are a relatively poor means of expression. I believe I have within me that which can conduct deeper matters.”
“I know a great secret. But I only know it through music.”

Arvo Pärt: Spiegel im Spiegel:

Thanks to NetGalley, Plough Publishing, and the author Joonas Sildre, for an early look at this ms, due out September 2024.

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The world’s greatest living composer, born into an Estonia that is absorbed into the Soviet Union. This book covers Arvo Part’s struggle under the communist regime as he transitions from avant garde iconoclast into a purveyor of music that elevates holiness and has a through line to the world’s oldest existing Christian music. Eventually morphing these two polar opposites into a style of music all his own. While he pursues these dreams he must contend with a government and an academy that has little appreciation for his developing sound.

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Following Arvo Pärt's journey thought life and music.

This graphic novel is easy to follow, beautifully illustrated and so worth a read.

Thank you Plough Publishing House for providing this book for review consideration via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
#BetweenTwoSounds #NetGalley.

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I had heard some of Arvo Part's choral music before reading this book, but knew very little about this composer or his work. So, I pulled up the music mentioned in this lovely graphic biography and listened as I read, an experience I highly recommend. The artwork in this book is clever and does a great job of telling this story, even conveying a sense of the music and sounds the story is in part about. I really enjoyed this book, and the excuse to explore music by this excellent composer.

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I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this. The art was well suited to the story it was telling and I really liked the way the whole book was formatted. I’d never heard of Arvo Pärt prior to reading this and knew very little about Estonia other than its geographical location so everything was new. I found this didn’t take away from my enjoyment at all, there’s enough information that I felt informed without being overwhelmed. I’m listening to Für Alina as I write this review and it’s cool to know the backstory for it. Overall highly recommend! I am counting this as Country #43 for Read Around the World challenge :)

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