Arvo Pärt

* 1935 | Estonia

Composer Arvo Pärt is indissolubly linked with the musical history of the 20th and 21st centuries, which he himself has been writing for many decades. In a time of ever-greater complexity in all areas of life, his music teaches us to listen with fresh ears to sounds that are apparently simple. These might be a triad, a scale, or even silence: «Silence is like fertile soil waiting for our creative act – our seeds,» as Pärt puts it. In his works, silence acquires a new quality, becoming a source of contemplation and something to be heard in its own right.

In Pärt’s work, the music emerging from that silence is almost ascetically condensed: «A cosmic secret is concealed behind the art of combining two or three tones with one another.» Arvo Pärt embarked on a quest to find that secret. He found it in his unmistakeable «tintinnabuli» style – composition on the basis of just two inextricably intertwined melodic lines. In the 1970s, having arrived at a dead end as a pioneer of the avant-garde, he developed his musical idiom during eight years of seclusion. In other words, he returned to the simple melody, to the «naked voice that is the source of all else.»

This idea stems from the fact that in many examples of Pärt’s music a text is associated with the composition – either sung or merely imagined. In many instrumental works, texts also serve not only as inspiration, but as the basis of his compositional process and melodies. Or they refer to Arvo Pärt’s profound faith. Pärt the monk, the mystic. That too is an aspect of his compositions. His music moves people in a very profound, spiritual way – regardless of their creed.

Another special feature of Arvo Pärt’s work is that he re-evaluates his compositions, constantly rewriting them – be it for new combinations of instruments, specific musicians, or special occasions. The number of tonal possibilities offered by one and the same sequence of sounds is awe-inspiring.

Mediaeval and modern; reclusive yet capable of reconciling different worlds; almost no music at all; and yet so much more. Arvo Pärt’s works demonstrate just how complex simplicity can sometimes be.


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