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Arvo Pärt is an Estonian composer, often identified with the school of minimalism, though he rejects this label (and, even more vehemently, the label of "holy minimalism", which he describes as meaningless).Read More...
Arvo Pärt was born on 11th September 1935 in Paide, Järva County, Estonia. His musical studies began in 1954 at the Tallinn Music Secondary School, interrupted less than a year later while he fulfilled his National Service obligation as oboist and side-drummer in an army band. He returned to Middle School for a year before joining the Tallinn Conservatory in 1957, where his composition teacher was Professor Heino Eller. Pärt started work as a recording engineer with Estonian Radio, wrote music for the stage and received numerous commissions for film scores so that, by the time he graduated from the Conservatory in 1963, he could already be considered a professional composer. A year before leaving, he won first prize in the All-Union Young Composers' Competition for a children's cantata, Our Garden, and an oratorio, Stride of the World.
Today Arvo Pärt is best known for his choral works, which he started to produce in the 1980s, after his emigration from the former Soviet Union to Germany, Berlin. Before that he had written his most recognised works from the 1970s, Fratres, Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten, and Tabula Rasa. In 1978 Pärt composed Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in Mirror).
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 fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries.
The spirit of early European polyphony informed the composition of Pärt's transitional third symphony (1971); 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 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 it as tintinnabuli: 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. Tintinnabuli works 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. Large-scale works inspired by religious texts include St John Passion, Te Deum, and Litany. Choral works from this period include Magnificat and The Beatitudes.
A new composition, Für Lennart, written for the memory of the Estonian President Lennart Meri, was played at his funeral service on 2nd April 2006. In response to the murder of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow on 7th October 2006, Pärt declared that all his works performed in 2006-2007 would be in commemoration of her death.
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