On 11 September 2020, one of the world’s most performed living composers, Arvo Pärt celebrates his 85th birthday. His creative output has significantly changed the way we understand the nature of music today. In 1976, he created a unique musical language called tintinnabuli.
Pärt’s connections to Europe and world
Born in 1935, Arvo Pärt left the then Soviet Estonia in 1980 in search of creative freedom. He stayed first in Vienna and later made his new home in Berlin. In 2010, he returned to live and compose in Estonia that had regained its independence in 1991.
Pärt has often mentioned his other “homes”: Austrian publisher Universal Edition and a German record label ECM. Both have largely contributed to the worldwide distribution of his music. Universal Edition signed a contract with the composer in 1980 at his arrival in Vienna. ECM’s leader Manfred Eicher discovered music by Arvo Pärt while driving on autobahn. He had to stop to receive better reception, because he had detected this ‘angel music’. Watch this video to learn about the ECM’s recording of the breakthrough work of the composer – “Tabula rasa” in 1984.
“Tabula Rasa” was also an inspiration to the Spanish architecture firm Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos who won the architecture competition to design the Arvo Pärt Centre in Laulasmaa, 35 km outside Tallinn. A curvy and airy construction that blends into the pine-forested hillside near the coast, opened its doors during the year of Estonia’s centenary in 2018, to honor the life and work of the greatest Estonian of all times. The Centre contains composer’s archive of all his works and is a popular destination for visitors, researchers and concertgoers.
“He gives space to the listeners; he can go inside the music and live there.” – Björk
Pärt’s music has been an inspiration to a great number of world class European artists, such as the choreographer Mats Ek, filmmakers Werner Herzog, Jean-Luc Godard, Luc Besson, Paolo Sorrentino, artist Gerhard Richter, to name a few. His timeless music has touched souls across all genres and borders.
Pärt’s music has also been celebrated in the European Capitals of Culture. “In Principio” (2003) was commissioned by Graz 2003 and “Adam’s Lament” (2010) was a joint commission by Istanbul 2010 and Tallinn 2011.
Pärt’s connection to the United Kingdom
Arvo Pärt received an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford in 2016, alongside other remarkable people like American economist Paul Krugman, Portugese film director Pedro Almodóvar, the head designer of Apple, Sir Jonathan Ive etc.
Lesser known is the fact that a tiny Greek-style chapel situated in the courtyard of the new Arvo Pärt Centre is dedicated to Saint Archimandrite Sophrony (1896-1993), a close friend of Arvo Pärt and a founder of the Orthodox Christian Monastery of St John the Baptist, in Essex. St Sophroni was a spiritual son of St. Silouan, a Russian monk from Mount Athos, whose poetic texts have inspired some of Pärt’s most important works, Adam’s Lament (2010) and Silouan’s Song (2012).
Finally, did you know that Pärt’s very first composition in tintinnabuli-technique, a two-minute piece for piano “Für Alina” (1976), has its roots in the UK? Pärt dedicated the piece to the daughter of family friends who was separated from her mother by Iron Curtain. The daughter named Alina was left in England and the mother in the Soviet Union. The “real” Alina still lives in the UK.
When it comes to Arvo Pärt, there is so much more to discover. His music has reached a vast audience and although there is no compositional school that follows Pärt, a large part of the contemporary music has been influenced by his tintinnabuli compositions. He clearly is a unique voice in today’s music.
EUNIC London wishes Arvo Pärt a happy 85th birthday!