Arvo Pärt

The Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, born in 1935, is regarded as one of the greatest composers of our age. After studying composition under Heino Eller in Tallinn, he initially worked as a recording engineer with Estonian Radio while writing some early works influenced by the Soviet avant-garde. Beginning with neo-classicist piano music, he experimented with the techniques of twelve-tone music and serialism for a period of ten years, drawing inspiration from Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Bartók. In 1968 he fell out of favour with the Soviet music authorities, who frowned upon his religiously-motivated collage piece »Credo«. This composition triggered a crisis in his creative output that lasted eight years. The silence was finally broken in 1976 by »Für Alina«, a piece of musical introspection which helped him to find himself, and which saw Pärt first apply the principle that marks his work to the present day: the tintinnabuli style, arising from a preoccupation with Gregorian chant and the Renaissance (tintinnabul m is Latin for a small bell). The confinement to only a few tones produces the archaic yet well-structured »chime« of the triad, a style that departs entirely from previous harmonic paradigms. In a creative burst, Pärt wrote such significant works as »Fratres«, »Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten« and »Arbos«, all dating from 1977. At the same time he came under increasing political pressure. In 1980 he left the Soviet Union, settling in Berlin, where he lived for many years. His international breakthrough came with the work »Tabula rasa« from 1984. Arvo Pärt has received numerous accolades and awards.