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KRAKOW 2019

Review: Tõnu Kõrvits. Moorland Elegies

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- Marianne Kõrver's documentary about Estonia's titular famous contemporary music composer whisks us away on a journey to the soul of an artist

Review: Tõnu Kõrvits. Moorland Elegies
Tõnu Kõrvits (left) in Tõnu Kõrvits. Moorland Elegies

There is no type of landscape that is more inspiring, melancholic and cinematic – all at the same time – than moorland. Even though most of us barely ever use that word, the type of low-growing violet, green and rust-coloured shrubs that make up this kind of terrain are instantly recognisable. Nature, however pretentious it may sound, plays a vital role in Tõnu Kõrvits’ music. He is very well known in his native Estonia (his most popular work is probably Moorland Elegies), while internationally he is overshadowed by his fellow countryman Arvo Pärt.

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In the Krakow-screened documentary Tõnu Kõrvits. Moorland Elegies [+see also:
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, directed by Marianne Kõrver, we get to enjoy the sounds of a rather offbeat orchestra – consisting of Kõrvits’ music, his own words, and those of his students and friends – and observe the beauty of Baltic nature in some very poetic shots. Each of these “voices” represents a different part of the human psyche: the mind, the heart and the soul. The people attempt to analyse and understand how Kõrvits works: where he draws his inspiration from, what is involved in his creative process, how he teaches and hence how he explains music to others. These statements and reflections are interesting and insightful: they remind us how sounds and tunes can influence our bodies, and how something so intangible can soothe and calm our muscles, blood and bones. 

Kõrvits talks about his highly intimate relationship with what he creates in a very original and personal way – for example, he points out that composing cheerful music makes him sad. And his melancholia is palpable, as it feels like the most important theme in his work is that of loss – more specifically, people’s lost bond with the mystical power of nature – and the music is a desperate effort to retrieve that connection and that sense of unity, but one that is doomed to failure. Putting all of that into words may sound pompous and artificial, but when it can all be “felt” through music, it is organic and authentic. 

And this conclusion can be taken even further: the most interesting parts of the interviews with Kõrvits and his friends, including an Estonian prime minister, are not words, but rather silence – the seemingly blank stares when people pause, or the sparkle in their eyes when they are preparing to say something else. Kõrver tries to catch something more than just their pure, physical presence – perhaps a glimpse of their soul. Film may not be the best medium to do this, as music would seem more effective, but the Estonian director’s work is really impressive. 

There have been many cinematic attempts to draw out the secret of creativity, the nature of inspiration and the greatness of art. But as Tõnu Kõrvits. Moorland Elegies shrewdly observes, sometimes these mysteries simply can’t be explained. Instead, they should be experienced, and the inclusion of so much music and so many landscapes in the film was therefore an astute artistic and philosophical choice.

Tõnu Kõrvits. Moorland Elegies was produced by Estonian outfit Klaasmeri.

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