Posts Tagged ‘Arvo Pärt’

Arvo Pärt

Monday, November 8th, 2010



Arvo Pärt is often identified with the school of minimalism and, more specifically, that of mystic minimalism or holy minimalism.[4] He is considered a pioneer of this style, along with contemporaries Henryk Górecki and John Tavener.[5] Although his fame initially rested on instrumental works such as Tabula Rasa and Spiegel im Spiegel, his choral works have also come to be widely appreciated.

Pärt’s oeuvre is generally divided into two periods. His early works ranged from rather 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 14th to 16th centuries.[3] In this context, Pärt’s biographer, Paul Hillier, observed that “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.”

The spirit of early European polyphony informed the composition of Pärt’s transitional Third Symphony (1971); and 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 European 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.[3] Pärt describes the music of this period as tintinnabuli — like the ringing of bells. Spiegel im Spiegel (1978) is a well-known example which has been used in many films. The music is characterised by simple harmonies, often single unadorned notes, or triads, which form the basis of Western harmony. These are reminiscent of ringing bells. Tintinnabuli works are rhythmically simple and do not change tempo. 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.[3]

Of his popularity, Steve Reich has written:”Even in Estonia, Arvo was getting the same feeling that we were all getting. [...] I love his music, and I love the fact that he is such a brave, talented man. [...] He’s completely out of step with the zeitgeist and yet he’s enormously popular, which is so inspiring. His music fulfills a deep human need that has nothing to do with fashion.” Pärt’s music came to public attention in the West, largely thanks to Manfred Eicher who recorded several of Pärt’s compositions for ECM Records starting in 1984.

In response to the murder of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow on 7 October 2006, Pärt declared that all his works performed in 2006–2007 would be in honour of her death:
“Anna Politkovskaya staked her entire talent, energy and—in the end—even her life on saving people who had become victims of the abuses prevailing in Russia.”
— Arvo Pärt