Arvo Pärt (born 11 September 1935; Estonian pronunciation: [ˈɑrvo ˈpært]) is an Estonian classical composer. Since the late 1970s, Pärt has worked in a minimalist style that employs a self-made compositional technique called tintinnabuli. His music also finds its inspiration and influence from Gregorian chant.
He was born in Paide, Järva County, Estonia. Continuing struggles with Soviet officials led him to emigrate in 1980 with his wife and their two sons. Pärt lived first in Vienna, Austria, where he took Austrian citizenship, and then re-located to Berlin, Germany. He returned to Estonia around the turn of the century and now lives in Tallinn.
Familiar works by Pärt are Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten for string orchestra and bell (1977) and the string quintet "Fratres I" (1977, revised 1983), which he orchestrated for string orchestra and percussion, the solo violin "Fratres II" and the cello ensemble "Fratres III" (both 1980).
Pärt is often identified with the school of minimalism and, more specifically, that of mystic minimalism or holy minimalism. He is considered a pioneer of this style, along with contemporaries Henryk Górecki and John Tavener. Although his fame initially rested on instrumental works such as Tabula Rasa and Spiegel im Spiegel, his choral works have also come to be widely appreciated.
Pärt's musical education began at age seven. He began attending music school in Rakvere, where his family lived. By the time he reached his early teen years, Pärt was writing his own compositions. While studying composition with Heino Eller at the Tallinn Conservatory in 1957, it was said of him that "he just seemed to shake his sleeves and notes would fall out."
In this period of Estonian history, Pärt was unable to encounter many musical influences from outside the Soviet Union except for a few illegal tapes and scores. Although Estonia had been an independent Baltic state at the time of Pärt's birth, the Soviet Union occupied it in 1940 as a result of the Soviet-Nazi Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact; and the country would then remain under Soviet domination—except for the three-year period of German wartime occupation—for the next 51 years.
Pärt's oeuvre is generally divided into two periods.
His early works ranged from rather severe neo-classical styles influenced by Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Bartók. He then began to compose using Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique and serialism. This, however, not only earned the ire of the Soviet establishment, but also proved to be a creative dead-end. When early works were banned by Soviet censors, Pärt entered the first of several periods of contemplative silence, during which he studied choral music from the 14th to 16th centuries. In this context, Pärt's biographer, Paul Hillier, observed that "He had reached a position of complete despair in which the composition of music appeared to be the most futile of gestures, and he lacked the musical faith and will-power to write even a single note."
The spirit of early European polyphony informed the composition of Pärt's transitional Third Symphony (1971); and thereafter, he immersed himself in early music, re-investigating the roots of Western music. He studied plainsong, Gregorian chant, and the emergence of polyphony in the European Renaissance.
The music that began to emerge after this period was radically different. This period of new compositions included Fratres, Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten, and Tabula Rasa. Pärt describes the music of this period as tintinnabuli — like the ringing of bells. Spiegel im Spiegel (1978) is a well-known example which has been used in many films. The music is characterized by simple harmonies, often single unadorned notes, or triads, which form the basis of Western harmony. These are reminiscent of ringing bells. Tintinnabuli works are rhythmically simple and do not change tempo. The influence of early European music is clear. Another characteristic of Pärt's later works is that they are frequently settings for sacred texts, although he mostly chooses Latin or the Church Slavonic language used in Orthodox liturgy instead of his native Estonian language. Large-scale works inspired by religious texts include St. John Passion, Te Deum, andLitany. Choral works from this period include Magnificat and The Beatitudes.
Of his popularity, Steve Reich has written:"Even in Estonia, Arvo was getting the same feeling that we were all getting. [...] I love his music, and I love the fact that he is such a brave, talented man. [...] He's completely out of step with the zeitgeist and yet he's enormously popular, which is so inspiring. His music fulfills a deep human need that has nothing to do with fashion." Pärt's music came to public attention in the West, largely thanks to Manfred Eicher who recorded several of Pärt's compositions for ECM Records starting in 1984.
Pärt has said that his music is similar to light going through a prism: the music may have a slightly different meaning for each listener, thus creating a spectrum of musical experience, similar to the rainbow of light.
He and his music were portrayed at the Rheingau Musik Festival 2005 in four concerts. Chamber music included Für Alina for piano, played by himself, Spiegel im Spiegel and Psalom for string quartet. The chamber orchestra of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra played hisTrisagion, Fratres and Cantus along with works of Bach. The Windsbach Boys Choir and soloists Sibylla Rubens, Ingeborg Danz, Markus Schäfer and Klaus Mertens performed Magnificat and Collage über B-A-C-H together with two cantatas of Bach and one of Mendelssohn. TheHilliard Ensemble, organist Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, the Rostocker Motettenchor and the Hilliard instrumental ensemble, conducted byMarkus Johannes Langer, performed a program of Pärt's organ music and works for voices (some a cappella), including Pari Intervallo, De profundis and Miserere.
A new composition, Für Lennart, written for the memory of the Estonian President Lennart Meri, was played at his funeral service on 2 April 2006.
In response to the murder of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow on 7 October 2006, Pärt declared that all his works performed in 2006–2007 would be in commemoration of her death:
- "Anna Politkovskaya staked her entire talent, energy and—in the end—even her life on saving people who had become victims of the abuses prevailing in Russia."— Arvo Pärt
Pärt was honored as the featured composer of the 2008 RTÉ Living Music Festival in Dublin, Ireland. He was also commissioned by Louth Contemporary Music Society to compose a new choral work based on St. Patricks Breastplate, which premiered in 2008 in Louth, Ireland. The new work is called The Deers Cry. This is the composer's first Irish commission, having its debut in Drogheda and Dundalk in February 2008.
Also a new composition in 2008 is Symphony No. 4, named “Los Angeles” and dedicated to Mikhail Khodorkovsky. It is his first symphony written for over 37 years, since 1971's Symphony No. 3. It premiered in Los Angeles, California, at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on January 10, 2009.
Works for voices and orchestra
- Our Garden, Cantata for children's chorus and orchestra (1959/2003)
- Credo for chorus, orchestra, and piano solo (1968)
- Wallfahrtslied for tenor or baritone and string orchestra (1984/2000)
- Te Deum for chorus, string orchestra and tape (1984–5, rev 1992)
- Berlin Mass for chorus and organ or string orchestra (1992)
- Litany for soloists, chorus and orchestra (1994)
- I am the true vine for choir a cappella (1996)
- Como cierva sedienta for soprano, chorus and orchestra (1998)
- Cantiques des degrés for chorus and orchestra (1999/2002)
- Cecilia, vergine romana for chorus and orchestra (1999/2002)
- In Principio for chorus and orchestra (2003)
Works for voices and ensemble (or piano)
- An den Wassern zu Babel saßen wir und weinten for voices or choir and organ or ensemble (1976/1984)
- Sarah Was Ninety Years Old for three voices, percussion and organ (1977/1990)
- De profundis for chorus, percussion and organ (1980)
- Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi secundum Joannem for soloists, vocal ensemble, choir and instrumental ensemble (1982)
- Es sang vor langen Jahren for alto, violin and viola (1984)
- Wallfahrtslied for tenor or baritone and string quartet (1984)
- Stabat Mater for 3 voices and string trio (1985)
- Miserere for solosts, choir, ensemble and organ (1989/1992)
- My Heart is in the Highlands for countertenor and organ (2000)
- Zwei Wiegenlieder for two women’s voices and piano (2002)
- L'Abbé Agathon for soprano, four violas and four celli (2004/2005)
Works for chorus (and organ)
- An den Wassern Babylons saßen wir und weinten for voices and organ (1976/1984)
- Missa syllabica for chorus and organ (1977)
- Summa for chorus (1977)
- De profundis for mens voices, percussion (ad lib.) and organ (1980)
- Magnificat for chorus (1989)
- Bogoroditse Djevo for chorus (1990)
- Hildegard Curth gewidmet – The Beatitudes (1990)
- And One of the Pharisees for three voices (1992)
- Dopo la Vittoria for chorus (1996)
- I Am the True Vine (1996)
- Kanon Pokajanen for chorus (1997)
- Triodion for chorus (1998)
- Which Was the Son of... (2000)
- Littlemore Tractus for chorus and organ (2001)
- Nunc Dimittis for chorus (2001)
- Salve Regina for chorus and organ (2001)
- Peace upon you, Jerusalem for female chorus (2002)
- Most Holy Mother of God for four voices (2003)
- Da Pacem Domine for four voices (2004)
- Anthem written for St John's College, Oxford (2005)
- The Deer's Cry written for chorus for Louth Contemporary Music Society, Ireland (2008)
- Nekrolog for orchestra op.5 (1960)
- Symphony No. 1 Polyphonic op.9 (1963)
- Perpetuum mobile for orchestra op.10 (1963)
- Symphony No. 2 for orchestra (1966)
- Symphony No. 3 for orchestra (1971)
- Wenn Bach Bienen gezüchtet hätte ... for piano, wind quintet, string orchestra and percussion (1976)
- Fratres for chamber ensemble (1976 and on, many versions)
- Arbos for brass and percussion (1977/1986)
- Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten for string orchestra and bell (1977)
- Psalom for string orchestra (1985/1995/1997)
- Festina Lente for string orchestra and harp (1988)
- Summa for string orchestra (1991)
- Silouans Song for string orchestra (1991)
- Trisagion for string orchestra (1992)
- Mein Weg for 14 string players and percussion (1999)
- Orient & Occident for string orchestra (2000)
- Lennartile / Für Lennart for string orchestra (2006)
- La Sindone for orchestra and percussion (2006)
- Symphony No. 4 Los Angeles (2008)
Works for solo instruments and orchestra
- Collage sur B-A-C-H, for oboe, string orchestra, harpsichord, and piano (1964)
- Pro et Contra, concerto for cello and orchestra (1966, for Mstislav Rostropovich)
- Credo for chorus, orchestra, and piano solo (1968)
- Tabula Rasa, double concerto for two violins, string orchestra, and prepared piano (1977)
- Fratres for violin, string orchestra and percussion (1992)
- Concerto piccolo über B-A-C-H for trumpet, string orchestra, harpsichord and piano (1994)
- Darf ich ... for violin, bells and string orchestra (1995/1999)
- Lamentate for piano and orchestra (2002)
- Passacaglia for violin, string orchestra and vibraphone (2003/2007, for Gidon Kremer's 60th birthday)
- Music for a Children's Theatre, Four Dances: Puss in Boots, Red-Riding-Hood and Wolf, Butterfly, Dance of the Ducklings, for piano (1956/1957)
- 2 Sonatinen op.1, for piano (1958/1959)
- Quintettino op.13, for wind quintet (1964)
- Collage über B-A-C-H for oboe and strings (1964)
- Für Alina for piano (1976)
- Pari Intervallo for organ (1976/1981)
- Variationen zur Gesundung von Arinuschka for piano (1977)
- Spiegel im Spiegel for violin or cello and piano (1978)
- Fratres for violin and piano (1980)
- Annum per annum for organ (1980)
- Pari intervallo for organ (1981)
- Hymn to a Great City for two pianos (1984/2000)
- Trivium for organ (1988)
- Summa for string quartet (1990)
- Berliner Messe for SATB soloists and organ (1990)
- Psalom for string quartet (1991/1993)
- Mozart-Adagio for violin, cello and piano (1992/1997, from Mozart's Piano Sonata in F major (K 280))
- Passacaglia for violin and piano (2003)
- 1996 — American Academy of Arts and Letters Department of Music
- 1996 — Honorary Doctor of Music, University of Sydney
- 2003 — Honorary Doctor of Music, University of Durham
- 2008 — Léonie Sonning Music Prize
- 2009 — Honorary Doctor of Music, University of St Andrews
Pärt's music has been featured in over 50 films, from Väike motoroller (1962) to Promised Land (2004).
- Elements from the Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten was used in Léos Carax's film Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (1991); and a part of the composition was heard in Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11 while the audience confronts the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York City.
- Segments from Spiegel im Spiegel were incorporated in Mike Nichols's film version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Wit (2001); in the mountain-climbing documentary Touching the Void (2003); in Tom Tykwer's film Heaven (2002); in Shona Auerbach's Glasgow based filmDear Frankie (2004); in Gus Van Sant's film Gerry (2003) which also included a small segment from Für Alina ; and in the film Elegy (2008).
- Tabula Rasa was used in the opening scenes of the award-winning 2001 documentary War Photographer, about photojournalist James Nachtwey.
- His soundtrack for Reha Erdem's Times and Winds (in Turkish Beş Vakit), 2006, underscored Erdem's subject, the endlessly repeating seasonal and human rhythms of Turkish village life.
- Annum per Annum was used in the 1998 film The Thin Red Line.
- Fratres for Cello and Piano was used in the soundtrack for the 2007 film There Will Be Blood.
- Silouans Song was used in the 2006 movie The Good Shepherd.
- Dorian Supin, an Estonian filmmaker, made a full-length documentary on Pärt titled 24 Preludes for a Fugue, which was released in 2002.
- Litany was used in the 1999 movie The Insider.