Arvo Pärt


Arvo Pärt was born in Paide, Estonia in 1935.  Working as a recording director and a film and television composer, he was able to access a wider range of foreign music than was normally permitted by the Soviet regime.  At the same time he was studying composition at the Tallinn Conservatory, and won a young composers' competition with the cantata Meie Aed (our garden) in 1962, the year before he graduated.  Works from that period reveal the influence of Russian neoclassic composers Shostakovich and Prokofiev.

Interested at first in serial composition, he wrote three symphonies between 1963 and 1971, and the concerto for cello and orchestra Pro et Contra (1968).  But serial techniques were too rigid for Pärt, and he broke off from composing to study medieval and orthodox religious music.  With a new simple, almost minimal style he wrote Tabula Rasa (1977), Fratres (1977) and Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten (1976).  Fur Alina (1976) and then Spiegel im Spiegel (1978) make use of tintinnabuli - a feature Pärt invented - named for the bell-like effect made when the melodic line played by one instrument is complimented by notes from the triad played by another.

As Pärt's music became more well known outside Estonia, he was forced to emigrate with his family in 1980 due to clashes with the authorities, finally settling in Berlin.  Works since then have included Te Deum (1984-6), Stabat Mater (1985), Magnificat (1989) and Litany (1994).  With considered grace his music conveys great religious feeling, and time seems to become timelessness in even the shortest pieces.

Related composers: Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Tavener

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