Arvo Pärt is an Estonian composer of classical and religious music.
Pärt wrote his own compositions in his early teens and studied at the Tallinn Music Middle School in 1954 before temporarily abandoning education to fulfil military service, playing oboe and percussion in the army band. After his service he attended Tallinn Conservatory, where he studied composition and produced music for film and the stage. From 1957 to 1967, he worked as a sound producer for Estonian radio.
In 1980, after a prolonged struggle with Soviet officials, he moved to Vienna with his wife and two sons, where he took Austrian citizenship and then relocated to Berlin, Germany, in 1981. He returned to Estonia around the turn of the 21st century and now lives alternately in Berlin and Tallinn.
Pärt’s early works employ a range of neo-classical styles influenced by Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Bartók, followed by pieces utilising Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique and serialism. However these works were not only banned by Soviet censors but also led to a creative dead end, followed by a period of contemplation in which he studied choral music from the 14th to 16th centuries.
The music that began to emerge after this period was radically different, including the 1977 works Fratres for string quintet and wind quintet, Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten and Tabula Rasa for two violins, prepared piano, and string orchestra. This new style of composition is described by Pärt as tintinnabuli—like the ringing of bells. It is characterised by simple harmonies, often single unadorned notes, or chords.
In 1995, Pärt was recognized for his many artistic achievements by being elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His 2008 Symphony No. 4 was nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition and he remains among the most popular serious composers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Arvo began to experiment in composition using only the top and bottom notes of the family’s piano, since the middle register was damaged.
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