Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

Arvo Pärt Turns 80

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Arvo Part by Woesinger 2008.

Arvo Part by Woesinger 2008.

On 11 September, Arvo Pärt celebrated his 80th birthday.

It is not easy to describe his music, especially since his later writing differs so greatly from his earlier style. It can evoke profound emotions, not necessarily comfortable emotions. Some pieces may seem simple, but are not.  Some might at first seem repetitive, but are not.

But wait.  Give the music a chance to take you where it wants you to go.

So what does this all mean?  Let me try to explain. Pärt’s earlier writing was atonal, dissonant, brash, full of jarring dynamic changes.  He fell silent for eight years.  He returned with a completely different minimalist style, called his “tintinnabuli” style.  Like the tinkling of bells it is named for, one might think of the sound of wind chimes in a breeze, sounding the same notes again and again, but in different patterns.  But with the correct tuning, it is pleasing to the ear.  Silences “fit” in the music; they are a component, not a sign of something missing.

If one has heard the tintinnabuli works, Pärt’s Symphony No. 1 and the cello concerto “Pro et contra” from his earlier style may prove a shock to the system.  The Guardian has collected some of Pärt’s representative works from this earlier style and some later works.  The early works are challenging, they will not be to everyone’s taste, but I think it’s worth listening to some of it to learn about it.

Classic FM has compiled a collection of five of Pärt’s compositions that represent the composer’s later “tintinnabuli” style of writing.  These are more approachable works, and again, I think everyone should give them a listen.

If you listen to only one piece, make it this one:  Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in Mirror).


Image attribution:  Arvo Pärt by Woesinger [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.


One thought on “Arvo Pärt Turns 80

  1. Thanks so much for doing this, Chris- and so well. Really useful to have a retrospective of his work- and, frankly, makes the “second style” more (IMO) “legitimate” and not as reductio ad absurdam as some of it might feel initially. The abruption between the two styles is certainly more stark than it is in most composers, where one can usually trace a straight-line development of thought and ear (even, as in Stravinsky, where the three “manners” are superficially quite distinct). But certainly you can find the roots of his later practice in some aspects of his earlier work (its length and gradual unfolding for example). Yes, Spiegel im Spiegel may be the best place (easiest place) to start- but I’m not convinced that it doesn’t beg too many questions (for me). Anyway- many thanks!



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