Arvo Pärt

Photo: Peeter Langovits

Composer, ECU member since 2005
Born on 11.09.1935

Arvo Pärt is a composer of international stature whose music is characterized by strong compositional logic and sacral atmosphere. As the boldest innovator of 1960s Estonian music, he brought into play all the most important modernist techniques of composition in his earlier works. In the 1980s, Pärt achieved worldwide renown by his meditative tintinnabuli style. Arvo Pärt’s music has a remarkable influence on Estonian contemporary music.

Arvo Pärt studied music theory at the Tallinn Music High School in 1954–1957 and continued with studies of composition at the Tallinn Conservatoire in 1957–1963 as a student of Heino Eller. From 1958 to 1967, he worked as a sound director at Estonian Radio, thereafter he became a freelance composer. In 1980, Pärt and his family emigrated from Soviet Estonia to Vienna and one year later, travelled on a DAAD scholarship (German Academic Exchange Service) to Berlin. After the restoration of Estonian Republic in 1991, Pärt’s ties with his homeland were restored.

Arvo Pärt’s first works written for the piano – 2 sonatinas (1958–1959), Partita (1958) and others – represent neoclassicist style. In his 1960s work, sonorism became dominating. Pärt’s first orchestral work was “Nekrolog” (1960) for symphony orchestra – the first performed dodecaphonic work in Estonian and Soviet music. Written in ground of sonoristic and serial methods, his Symphony No. 1 (Polyphonic, 1963) and orchestral work “Perpetuum mobile” (1963) dedicated to Luigi Nono stand out as vivid examples of Pärt’s “architectonic” form shaping. From 1965, after the performance of the “Perpetuum mobile” at the Warsaw Autumn Festival, Pärt’s music became known internationally. Pärt’s “Collage on BACH” (1964) for oboe and orchestra, the cello concerto “Pro et contra” (1966), Symphony No. 2 (1966) and “Credo” (1968) for piano, mixed choir and orchestra, on the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, are based on the collage technique contrasting dramatic sound patterns with luminous tonal harmonic citations or stylisations.

After the three-year break and studying old manuscripts of sacral music, Pärt completed his Symphony No. 3 – the landmark of his new style inspired by medieval vocal music. From 1976, the peaceful and euphonic tintinnabuli style (tintinnabuli – “bell” in Latin), inspired by Gregorian chant and Netherlands’ vocal polyphony, became the basis of Pärt’s music. The new style interweaves a “melodic voice” moving stepwise and the triadic tintinnabuli voice. Its special features are meditative time flow and “breathing” phrases. The first work in the tintinnabuli style was the piano piece “For Aliina” from 1976. Following in 1977 “Tabula rasa” – a concerto for two violins, a piano and strings, “Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten” for strings and bell and “Fratres” having a large number of different instrumentations, are popular up to now.??

From 1980s, Pärt has written many works for choir and/or vocal soloist(s) with or without accompaniment, based on religious texts, including “Passio” (1982), “De profundis” (1980), “Te Deum” (1985/1992), “Magnificat” (1989), “Miserere” (1989/1992), “Berliner Messe” (1990/2002), “Litany” (1994/1996), “Kanon pokajanen” (1996), “Como cierva sedienta” (1998/2002). In the last decade, Pärt’s tintinnabuli idiom became open to historical and national stylistic nuances.

Arvo Pärt is the holder of an honorary doctorate from many universities (Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, University of Tartu, Estonia, University of Sydney, Australia, University of Durham, Great Britain, Universidad Nacional de General San Martín, Escuela de Humanidades, Argentina, Universität Freiburg – Theologische Fakultät, Germany, Université de Liège, Belgium, University of St. Andrews, Scotland) as well as honorary memberships (Royal Swedish Academy for Music, Stockholm, Sweden, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, USA, Royal Academy of Arts, Belgium. The Royal School of Church Music, Great Britain, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Rome, Italy).

Arvo Pärt has been awarded the Estonian State Cultural Award (1998), 2nd class Order of the National Coat of Arms of the Estonian Republic (1998), the Annual Prize of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia (2002), 1st class Order of the National Coat of Arms of the Estonian Republic (2006) and the Estonian State Cultural Award for the lifelong achievement (2009). Pärt has also received many awards and honors abroad: Independent Russian Arts Award Triumph (Moscow, 1997), Herder Award (Germany, 2000), Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters of France (2001), Composition Award for choral work, C.A. Seghizzi (Gorizia, Italy, 2003), Classical Brit Award for Orient & Occident (Great Britain, 2003), Borderland Award (Sejny, Poland, 2003), Composer of the Year, Musical America (USA, 2005), European Church Music Prize (Germany, 2005), International Brückepreis Award of the European City of Görlitz/Zgorzelec (2007), Baltic Star Award (St. Petersburg, Russia, 2007), Léonie Sonning Music Prize (Denmark, 2008), Austrian Medal of Honour First Class for Science and Arts (2008), Lifelong Achievement Award of International Istanbul Music Festival (2010), Baltic Image Enhancement Award (USA, 2010), Estonian Music Council Music Prize (2012).

The music of Arvo Pärt is performed all over the world. Most of his works have been commissioned by renowned soloists, choirs and orchestras. He is the permanent guest of great festivals and there have also been organised several festivals in honor of Arvo Pärt, including Arvo Pärt Festival in Stockholm (1995), International Composer Festival „Pärt in Profile” in Royal Academy of Music in London (2000), Arvo Pärt Festival in Copenhagen (2002), “Arvo Pärt – Person of the Borderland” in Poland (2003), Arvo Pärt Festival “?stonishing Music” in Groeningen, Holland (2004) and two Arvo Pärt Festivals in Estonia (2005), 44th International? Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli Festival titled as “Beethoven, Pärt: the voices of souls” in Brescia and Bergamo (2007), „Diario dell’anima. Omaggio ad Arvo Pärt“ in Rome, Italy (2010).

There have been published several books about Arvo Pärt, the author of two of them is conductor Paul Hillier: “Arvo Pärt” (Oxford University Press, 1997) and in collaboration with photographer Tõnu Tormis “On Pärt” (Theatre of Voices Edition, 2005). „Arvo Pärt allo specchio” (Il Saggiatore, 2004) is compiled by Italian musicologist Enzo Restagno. In 2012, Cambridge University Press published „The Cambridge Companion to Arvo Pärt”, a collection of articles edited by Andrew Shenton. In addition, several films and documentaries about Arvo Pärt and his music have been made, e. g. „Am nde der Lieder“ (Meinolf Fritzen, ZDF, 1978), „St. John’s Passion“ (Christopher Swann, 1988), „Siis sai õhtu ja sai hommik“ [„And then came the evening and the morning“] (Dorian Supin, ETV/Yleisradio TV 1/RM Arts Co-operation, 1989), „Te Deum – Arvo Pärt“ (TV-Produktion ARTE, 2000), „Bamboo Dream“ (Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, Lin Hwai-Min, 2002), „24 prelüüdi ühele fuugale“ [„24 Preludes for a Fugue“] (Dorian Supin, F-Seitse, 2002), „Passio“ (Paolo Cherchi Usai, Holland/Itaalia/USA, 2007).

The works of Arvo Pärt have been recorded mainly by ECM, and also by Harmonia Mundi, BIS, EMI Records, Hyperion, Chandos, CCn’C Records, Nonesuch Records, Deutsche Grammophon, Virgin Classics, Naxos, Albany Records, Finlandia Records, Eres a. o. In 1989, CD „Passio (ECM New Series, 1988) received the Classical Edison Award and in 2007, „Da pacem“ (Harmonia Mundi, 2006) won a Grammy Award in the best choral performance category (Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, conductor Paul Hillier). Pärt’s publisher is Universal Edition.

In 2009, the International Arvo Pärt Centre was founded by Arvo Pärt and his family. It was created for the purpose of preserving Arvo Pärt’s creative contribution to the arts and the education of future generations.

Look also: International Arvo Pärt Centre

© EMIC 2006
(updated June 2010)