Arvo Pärt

Arvo Pärt

Arvo Pärt was born in Paide, Estonia, a small town near Tallinn, the country's capital, on 11th September 1935. In 1944, Estonia saw the occupation of the Soviet Union, which would last for over 50 years, and would have a profound effect on his life and music. 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.

Living in the old Soviet Union, Pärt had little access to what was happening in contemporary Western music but, despite such isolation, the early 1960s in Estonia saw many new methods of composition being brought into use and Pärt was at the fore front. His Nekrolog was the first Estonian composition to employ serial technique. He continued with serialism through to the mid 60s in pieces such as the Symphonie No. 1, Symphonie No. 2 and Perpetuum Mobile, but ultimately tired of its rigours and moved on to experiment, in works such as Collage über BACH, with collage techniques.

Official judgement of Pärt's music veered between extremes, with certain works being praised and others, like the Credo of 1968, being banned. This would prove to be the last of his collage pieces and after its composition, Pärt chose to enter the first of several periods of contemplative silence, also using the time to study French and Franco-Flemish choral music from the 14th to 16th centuries: Machaut, Ockeghem, Obrecht, Josquin. At the very beginning of the 1970s, he wrote a few transitional compositions in the spirit of early European polyphony, like his Symphony No. 3 from 1971.

Pärt turned again to self-imposed silence, but re-emerged in 1976 after a transformation so radical as to make his previous music almost unrecognisable as that of the same composer. The technique he invented, or discovered, and to which he has remained loyal, practically without exception, he calls "tintinnabuli" (from the Latin, little bells), which he describes thus: "I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comforts me. I work with very few elements —with one voice, two voices. I build with primitive materials —with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells and that is why I call it tintinnabulation." The basic guiding principle behind tintinnabulation of composing two simultaneous voices as one line —one voice moving stepwise from and to a central pitch, first up then down, and the other sounding the notes of the triad— made its first public appearance in the short piano piece, Für Alina.

Having found his voice, there was a subsequent rush of new works and three of the 1977 pieces —Fratres, Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten and Tabula Rasa— are still amongst his most highly regarded. As Pärt's music began to be performed in the west and he continued to struggle against Soviet officialdom, his frustration ultimately forced him, his wife Nora and their two sons, to emigrate in 1980. They never made it to their intended destination of Israel but, with the assistance of his publisher in the West, settled firstly in Vienna, where he took Austrian citizenship. One year later, with a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange, he moved to West Berlin where he still lives.

Since leaving Estonia, Pärt has concentrated on setting religious texts, which have proved popular with choirs and ensembles around the world. Among his champions in the West have been Manfred Eicher's ECM Records who released the first recordings of Pärt's music outside the Soviet bloc, Paul Hillier's Hilliard Ensemble who have premiered several of the vocal works and Neeme Järvi, a long time collaborator of Pärt who conducted the premiere of Credo in Tallinn in 1968 and has, as well as recording the tintinnabuli pieces, introduced Pärt's earlier compositions through performances and recordings.

Pärt's achievements were honoured in his 61st year by his election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In May 2003, he also received the "Contemporary Music Award" at the Classical Brit Awards ceremony at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Choral Discography

Theater of Voices: Arvo Part - A Tribute

Dopo La Vittoria
The Woman With The Alabaster Box
Berliner Messe
First Alleluia Verse
Second Alleluia Verse
Veni Sancte Spiritus
Agnus Dei
Bogoroditese Djevo
I Am The True Wine
Which Was The Son Of…

In celebration of composer Arvo Pärt’s 70th birthday on September 11th, Harmonia Mundi offers this special selection of recordings, conducted by his long-time collaborator and biographer Paul Hillier. Of special note is the first release of Hillier’s reading of Dopo la vittoria. Previously released recordings are taken from Hillier’s two highly acclaimed recordings of the music of Arvo Pärt. His first CD, De Profundis, has remained a bestseller since its debut in March 1997. I Am The True Vine, his second Pärt disc, illustrated Hillier’s unique affinity for the deep spiritual mysteries of Pärt’s music, and his ability to illuminate them in ways no other performer can match. The collaborative relationship between Hillier and Estonian composer Pärt dates back to the early 1980s, when as director of the Hilliard Ensemble, he was among the first to present Pärt’s music to the West.

7867 CD $16.98

Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir: Arvo Part - Beatus

Statuit Ei Dominus
Missa Syllabica: I. Kyrie
Missa Syllabica: II. Gloria
Missa Syllabica: III. Credo
Missa Syllabica: IV. Sanctus
Missa Syllabica: V. Agnus Dei
Missa Syllabica: VI. Ite, Missa Est
Beatus Petronius
Magnificat-Antiphonen: I. O Wesheit
O Adonai
O Spross Aus Isais Wurzel
O Schlussel Davids
O Morgenstern
O Konig Aller Volker
O Immanuel
De Profundis
Cantate Domino

Born in 1935 in Paide, Estonia Arvo Part has become one of the leading choral composers of our time. Choirs around the world have performed his work and this recording is one of the finest interpretations of his works by this world-class choir. All these compositions are typical in that appear disarmingly simple on paper, they reveal a genuine and dignified spiritual depth.

7842 CD $15.98

Theater of Voices: Arvo Part - De Profundis

De Profundis
Agnus Dei
Ite Misse Est
And One Of Those Pharisees
Cantate Domino
O Weisheit
O Adonai
O Spross
O Schlussel
O Morgenstern
O Konig
O Immanuel
The Beatitudes

Review pending

6136 CD $15.98

Theater of Voices: I Am The True Vine

Bogorditse dyvo (Hail Mary)
I Am the True Vine
Kanon Pokajanen
The Woman with the Alabaster Boxt
Tribute to Caesar
Berliner Messe

Contemporary troubador Paul Hillier has been one of the key players behind introducing Arvo Pärt's music to Western audiences, first through recordings with the Hilliard Ensemble and later through his magnificently innovative group Theatre of Voices. I Am the True Vine continues the collaboration by bringing together some truly vintage Pärt compositions from the '90s. Although it exists on disc in a more elaborate version for choir and strings, the 1990 Berlin Mass was originally written for just four solo voices and organ. Pärt later revised the score, returning to that original sonority, which is the version offered here. The consummate preparation of the Theatre of Voices, in which every line is lovingly unfurled, the whole building into a memorable aural sculpture, only heightens a listener's admiration for Pärt's ability to make the seemingly simple profound. We also hear the composer in a more overtly joyful mood than usual in the short first selection, while the title track--a setting of a text from the Gospel of John and one of three world premiere recordings here--is a marvelously organic example of word painting (representing Pärt's choral virtuosity even when it comes to setting English text).

7868 CD $17.95

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