The great Estonian composer Arvo Pärt turns 85

On 11 September 2020, the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt will celebrate his 85th birthday. Pärt was born on 11 September 1935 in Paide, Estonia.

In 1956, he began taking piano and music theory lessons at the Tallinn School of Music and two years later transferred to the local conservatory, where he graduated in composition in 1963 in the class of Heino Eller.

Influenced by his work as a sound engineer at Estonian Radio (from 1957 to 1967) and the accompanying preoccupation with new trends in music, after initial compositional attempts in the style of Shostakovich and Prokofiev, Pärt implemented twelve-tone technique and serialism.

An example of this is the "Perpetuum mobile" for orchestra (op. 10) from 1963, dedicated to Luigi Nono, which is based on a twelve-tone series, which in itself represents a single increase, in which the instruments each play a repetition of individual notes at a constant speed. Pärt made this work known outside the Soviet Union through successful performances at various international festivals for new music.

The famous and frequently performed "Collage on B-A-C-H" for strings, oboe, harpsichord and piano dates from 1964, in which Pärt turned to the polystilism later championed by Alfred Schnittke.

In this compositional technique, quotes, quasi-quotes (stylistic borrowings) and collage techniques are used, so that in the listening experience bridges can be built between what may originally have been historically far apart. Hence Pärt combines baroque-style passages and Bach quotations with a ten-tone row and uses tone clusters.

In 1966 he also wrote the concerto for violoncello and orchestra "Pro et contra". It is one of the last works of Pärt's first creative period, which was characterised by twelve-tone rows, serialism, aleatorics and polystilism.

Between 1972 and 1976 Arvo Pärt took a creative break and devoted much of his time to medieval music, in particular sacred music from the 14th and 15th centuries. In this atmosphere, his compositional style changed noticeably: with a radical reduction of the tonal material, triadic and scale forms combined in structured patterns were now fundamental, reminiscent of the sound of bells.

For this reason, Pärt gave this technique the name “Tintinnabuli style”. “Tintinnabuli” means “little bells” in Latin. This technique is intended to create a state of "tense calm". At the same time a deep religiosity is expressed in the music.

“Tintinnabuli - this is an amazing event - the flight into voluntary poverty: the holy men left all their wealth behind and went into the wilderness. The composer also wants to leave behind the entire modern arsenal and save himself by the naked unanimity, carrying only the bare necessities with him - only the triad”, wrote Hermann Danuser, Hannelore Gerlach and Jürgen Köchel in the volume "Soviet Music in the Light of Perestroika" (Laaber Verlag), which is well worth reading.

Pärt also composed the work “Trivium” for organ in this style in 1976. The piece is based on simple, clearly tangible tone sequences, which on the surface are reminiscent of the influential musical structures of Gregorian chant, initially, unlike in Gregorian chant, underlaid with a drone, which gives the entire piece a clear tonal orientation; here there is no actual polyphony, only triads and tetras.

In 1980 Arvo Pärt moved to Vienna and two years later to Berlin, where he spent the next two decades before returning to Tallinn a few years ago.

The last work by Pärt to be published in our house is the Concerto piccolo on B-A-C-H. The orchestral parts correspond to the “Collage on B-A-C-H” from 1964, in which Arvo Pärt, in collaboration with the Swedish trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger, replaced the oboe with a trumpet part, giving the sound of this fantastic piece a distinctly different character.

11.09.2020
Arvo Pärt (born, 11.09.1935)
85th birthday
- Collage on B-A-C-H for strings, oboe, harpsichord and piano
- Concerto piccolo on B-A-C-H for trumpet, string orchestra, harpsichord and piano
- “Perpetuum mobile” (Perpetual Motion) for orchestra
- “Pro et contra”. Concert for cello and orchestra
-  Symphonies Nr. 1 and 2
- “Trivium” for organ

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