the estonian composer arvo part -- 4/27/18

Today's selection -- from Arvo Pärt by Paul Hillier. Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) is the magnificent contemporary composer of such signature works as Summa and Fratres. Pärt grew up and began his composing career in Estonia, then under the Soviet Union, where he eventually came under criticism and ultimately found a way to leave Estonia to embark on an acclaimed musical career in Germany:

"Shortly after the twenty-second [Soviet] Party Congress (October 1961) an article was issued attacking Andrei Volkonsky (b.1933) for his 'experi­ments' in dodecaphony. In 1954 Volkonsky had been a staunch defender of Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony; but after 1956, when he produced the first serial work by a Soviet composer, Musica Stricta, he found the atmosphere around him becoming increasingly uncongenial. The same article also singles out works by slightly younger composers for special commendation, among them Songs of War and Peace by Alfred Schnittke (b. 1934), Ode to the First Cosmonaut by Jaan Rääts (b.1932), and Maailma Samm by Pärt. The follow­ing year at the Third All-Union Congress of Composers (Moscow, March 1962) the attack on dodecaphony was further renewed, with contributions from older composers such as Khachaturyan and Kabalevsky. It was on this occasion, as we have seen, that Pärt came under sharp criticism for his orchestral work Nekrolog.

Pärt with his wife Nora in 2012

"The autumn of this complex year also saw the Cuban missile crisis and Stravinsky's historic return visit to Russia for the first time in 50 years. In November a series of concerts called 'The All-Union Survey of the Creative Work of Young Composers' took place in Moscow. These formed the final round in a competition for young composers under the age of 35 from throughout the USSR. Over a thousand compositions had been considered, and amongst the six prize-winners were two Estonian composers, Arvo Pärt and Eino Tamberg (b. l 930 ). This was useful recognition of Pärt's talent, though the works in question (Meie Aed and Maailma Samm) lie outside his real path and were passing acknowledgements, as it were, of the tuneful optimism that earned Soviet prizes.

"Throughout the 1960s Pärt continued to compose a rich series of works using serial and collage techniques which made no stylistic compromises whatsoever. His works were quite widely performed in the various Soviet republics and satellite states, and sometimes also in the West. But then in 1968 another scandal erupted, after the per­formance of Credo for piano, chorus, and orchestra. Quite apart from the official displeasure occasioned by the implications of the work's title, this marked a huge crisis in his creative development, and for a number of years Pärt, to all intents and purposes, fell silent. The crisis was not only a musical one, but reached into all aspects of his life at once, affecting his spiritual well-being and his physical health. Later, during the early 1970s, Pärt married his second wife, Nora (in 1972); he joined the Russian Orthodox Church; his health was restored; and, guided by his researches into early music, he moved towards a new tonal style to which he gave the name 'tintinnabuli'.

"During the 1970s an exodus of Soviet Jews took place, that grew from an initial trickle to a veritable flood by the end of the decade. As Pärt's wife was Jewish, he was urged to take advantage of the oppor­tunity this presented -- and thus doubtless to spare the authorities the thorn of his presence. But the Pärts at first had no desire to leave Estonia. However, as the official attitude towards his new music hard­ened, he was prevented from travelling abroad to attend concerts of his music, and altogether his ability to function as a composer was severely compromised, both artistically and economically. Eventually, in 1979, the Pärts decided to apply for exit visas to leave the Soviet Union. These were duly granted. On 18 January 1980, Pärt, his wife, and their two sons, boarded the train in Tallinn that would transport them across Europe to Vienna. [They settled in Germany]."



Paul Hillier


Arvo Pärt


Oxford University Press


Copyright Paul Hillier 1997


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