Für Alina (Arvo Pärt) – The soul yearns to sing it endlessly – Sounds simultaneously static and in flux

Für Alina is a work for piano composed in 1976 by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. It can be considered as an essential work of his tintinnabuli style.


  • Pärt refers to his current style as “tintinnabuli.”  This can be defined as the application of various inversions of a certain chord. Also, it is a word “which evokes the pealing of bells, the bells’ complex but rich sonorous mass of overtones, the gradual unfolding of patterns implicit in the sound itself, and the idea of a sound that is simultaneously static and in flux.” Pärt explains the term this way:

Tintinnabulation is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers – in my life, my music, my work. In my dark hours, I have the certain feeling that everything outside this one thing has no meaning. The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity. What is it, this one thing, and how do I find my way to it? Traces of this perfect thing appear in many guises – and everything that is unimportant falls away. Tintinnabulation is like this. . . . The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation


The score is composed with only Whole Notes and stemless black notes notated rhythm. It has only 15 bars of written music: the first bar has the low bass octave. From there onwards begins the following pattern: the second bar has one note-head and one whole note, the next bar has two quarter notes and a whole note, and so on until a bar that has seven quarter notes and a whole note. This pattern then scales down again, to one quarter note and a half note. The last bar has two quarter notes and a half note. In other words, the first bar as one note, the second has two, the third has three, and so on. It is built as such: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 3. The compositional symmetry mirrors the harmonic symmetry.

If played softly enough, with the pedal down and given enough time, the notes (often resulting in minor and major clashes between B and C#, D and E, and F# and G) can produce a humming of dissonance in the piano’s machinery, a phenomenon that only adds to the transcendental nature of the piece.124020-02_zoom



The overtones in the piano combine and collide to create new pitches, if you can listen carefully enough. The concept of an instrument containing bells rather than notes is not so fanciful. In a Masterclass with the composer, he was given an electric piano. He played a few notes on the piano-setting and said immediately “I don’t like that, let me change it” and set the Keyboard sound to Celesta, giving a clear metallic bell-like sound.



“Tintinnabuli is the mathematically exact connection from one line to another…..tintinnabuli is the rule where the melody and the accompaniment [accompanying voice]…is one. One plus one, it is one – it is not two. This is the secret of this technique.” – from a conversation between Arvo Pärt and Antony Pitts recorded for BBC Radio 3 at the Royal Academy of Music in London on 29 March 2000, as printed in the liner notes of the Naxos Records release of Passio.


Video taken From a Masterclass with the Composer:

Comments from the Composer about this work:

Each melody on its own is neutral – Quite Neutral

Playing both melodies together, they become more complex

Like two people whose paths seem to cross and then they don’t

I had a need to concentrate each sound so that every blade of grass would be as important as a flower

This is actually – could be a break on a radio

Such signals sometimes sound as if they sounded for an eternity

An entire life

Or future or past or present

I want to grant a blade of grass the status of flower

To see in this tiny phrase something more than just black and white

It wants to Further Hold that note

The tune doesn’t matter so much any more, it is the two together

It’s the combination with the triad that makes such a heart-rending union

The soul yearns to sing it endlessly

It’s like a Conductor’s upbeat before we hear anything, it contains the formula for the entire work, the tempo, the dynamics, and the Composer is in a similar position. To have that perception of what is coming, when the audience does not

It’s a complicated story I don’t quite understand it myself.

But I have an idea of what I want to say  – I am always looking for it

Sometimes it comes easily, sometimes  it doesn’t come at all

Every time I feel like I have to start from scratch.

The soul yearns to sing it endlessly.

Kawai grand piano proudly sponsored by Ian Burgess-Simpson Pianos, the largest piano specialist in South Africa. Attending to all your piano needs from new and second hand sales, authentically rebuilt vintage Steinways to tuning and servicing. www.ianburgess-simpson.com / www.kawai.co.za

An Exquisite Experiment: Playing this work on a Carilon: