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Arvo Pärt

Arvo Pärt is a contemporary Estonian composer of choral, chamber, and orchestral music, and the inventor of the compositional technique known as Tintinnabula. He faced opposition early in his career for both his faith and his exploration of modernist compositional concepts, but became one of the most performed composers during his lifetime. He was born in 1935 in Paide, Estonia and he was an only child. When he was three years old, he moved with his mother to Rakvere, where he attended the Rakvere Music School from 1945 to 1953. It was at this time that he studied with Ille Martin and he composed his first works, which were unfortunately lost. After he graduated in 1954, he enrolled at the Tallinn Music School but was called into service with the Soviet Army. He played the oboe, percussion, and piano in the military band, but he was discharged in the fall of 1956 because of poor health, and he resumed his education. Upon his return, he received instruction from Veljo Tormis, followed by studies with Heino Eller at the Tallinn Conservatory from 1957 to 1963. He developed long-lasting friendships with both instructors, and in 1963 he dedicated his Symphony No. 1 to Eller. Beginning around 1958, Pärt supported himself by composing theatrical works for the Estonian State Puppet Theater and scores for films and documentaries, and he worked as a recording engineer for Estonian Radio until 1967. He became interested in composers from the Renaissance such as Machaut, Desprez, and Obrecht, and these influences can be heard in Credo from 1968 and Symphony No. 3 from 1971. Credo also contained several other compositional concepts like serialized rhythm, tone clusters, and 12-tone technique. This caused an outrage among the nationalist Soviet Composers’ Union, which viewed his music as the hostile acceptance and integration of foreign (Western) influence. Additionally, the sacred theme of Christianity upset the anti-religious Soviet-Estonian government and the work was banned from performance for many years. In the early '70s he became dissatisfied with his methods for composition, and he took some time to reflect and redefine himself as a composer. He returned to composing in 1976 and created the concept of tintinnabula, which remains a key component to his style as a composer. In 1977 he continued developing tintinnabula, and he composed some of his most performed works, including Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, Fratres, and Tabula rasa. After his absurdly ironic acceptance speech at the 11th Congress of the Estonian SSR Composers’ Union in 1979, he was dismissed from the organization, and Estonian authorities suggested that he leave the country. He moved with his family to Vienna in 1980 and they settled in West Berlin in 1981. Over the next ten years, he established partnerships with ECM Records and the publisher Universal Edition, and he composed several large-scale works including Stabat Mater and Te Deum. He also began important collaborations with The Hilliard Ensemble and conductor Tõnu Kaljuste, which led to many recordings including the albums Arbos, Passio, and Te Deum. Pärt’s membership to the Estonian Composers’ Union was reinstated in 2005, and in 2007 the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir won a Grammy award for the album Arvo Pärt: Da Pacem. Pärt moved back to Estonia in 2010, and he established the Arvo Pärt Centre, which manages and curates his personal archive and offers educational programs. The 2012 release Arvo Pärt: Adam’s Lament conducted by Tõnu Kaljuste won a Grammy for Best Choral Performance in 2014. Many artists have recorded his music in the 2020s including Arabella Steinbacher, Tomasz Wabnic and the Morphing Chamber Orchestra, and Pedro Piquero on the 2023 release Pärt: Lamentate.
© RJ Lambert /TiVo
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