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Arvo Pärt (born 11 September 1935) is an Estonian composer, often identified with the school of minimalism. He is best known for his choral works.

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Biography

Pärt's musical education began at age 7, and by 14 or 15 he was writing his own compositions. While studying composition (with teacher Heino Eller) at the Tallinn Conservatory it was said of him that: "he just seemed to shake his sleeves and notes would fall out". There were very few influences from outside the Soviet Union at this time, just a few illegal tapes and scores.

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Arvo Pärt

Although at the time of Pärt's birth Estonia was a nascent independent republic, the Soviet Union took control of it in 1940 as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and the country remained part of the Soviet Union (except for a brief period under the Nazis), for the next 54 years.

Pärt's oeuvre is generally divided into two periods. His early works range from rather severe neo-classical styles influences 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. Pärt's biographer, Paul Hillier, says:

"... 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"

This may be an overstatement since the transitional third symphony was composed during this time. However, it is clear that Pärt experienced a deep personal crisis. His response to this impasse was to immerse himself in early music - to go, in effect, back to the roots of western music. He studied plainsong, Gregorian chant, and the emergence of polyphony in the Renaissance. At the same time he began to explore religion and joined the Russian Orthodox Church, perhaps indicating that his crisis was partly spiritual in nature, rather than exclusively musical.

The music that began to emerge after this period was radically different. Pärt describes it as tintinnabular - like the ringing of bells. The music is characterised by simple harmonies, often single unadorned notes, or triad chords which form the basis of western harmony. These are reminiscent of ringing bells, hence the name. The Tintinnabuli are rhythmically simple, and do not change tempo. The influence of early 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.

It is for these latter works that Pärt is best known, and he is unusual for a modern composer in that he is very popular in his own lifetime.

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.

His music has been used in over 50 films, from "Vaike motoroller" (1962) to "Promised Land" (2004). The "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten" was used in Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" while showing the war dead of the Iraq invasion. "Spiegel im Spiegel" was prominently used in Mike Nichols' "Wit".

Well-known Works

Works for Voices

  • Passio (1982)
  • Miserere (1989)
  • Magnificat (1989)
  • Te Deum for chorus, string orchestra and tape (1984-5, rev 1992)
  • Berlin Mass for chorus and organ or string orchestra (1992)
  • Litany (1994)
  • Kanon Pokajanen (1996)
  • Como cierva sedienta for soprano, chorus and orchestra (1998)
  • Nunc Dimittis (2001)
  • In Principio for chorus and orchestra (2003)
  • L'Abbé Agathon for soprano, four violas and four celli (2004)

Instrumental Works

  • Symphony No.3 (1971)
  • Für Alina for piano (1976)
  • Fratres (1976 and on, many versions)
  • Arbos (1977, 1986)
  • Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten for string orchestra and bell (1977)
  • Tabula Rasa, Double Concerto for two violins, string orchestra and prepared piano (1977)
  • Spiegel Im Spiegel for violin or cello and piano (1978)
  • Festina Lente for string orchestra and harp (1988)
  • Silouans Song for string orchestra (1991)
  • Trisagion for string orchestra (1992)
  • Orient Occident for string orchestra (2000)
  • Lamentate for piano and orchestra (2002)

Printed Sources

  • Hillier, Paul. Arvo Pärt. (Oxford : University Press, 1997). ISBN 0198166168

External links

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