Birthday Reflections: Arvo Pärt

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September 11 marks the 75th birthday of revered Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, whose meditative music is well suited to this day of reflection. In an apt description of Pärt's work, Terrance McKnight describes it as music that "stands in front of you like a mirror. It doesn't judge." 

In the 1960's Arvo Pärt was the first Estonian composer to write serial music, which he later evolved into his noted collage technique. Much of his early work was banned in the Soviet Union, due to its seeming Western influence and religious subject matter. In response, Pärt retreated into a period of silence.

Pärt eventually moved to Berlin and emerged with a new style of composition called tintinnabuli, from the Latin "little bells." Pärt described the technique in this way:

"I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comforts me. I work with very few elements - with one voice, two voices. I build with primitive materials - with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells and that is why I call it tintinnabulation."

Pärt has remained faithful to tintinnabuli ever since. The simplicity, mysticism, and silence that color his music have led this composer's voice to be one of the most significant of his generation. It is music that does not instruct, but rather, like a mirror, compels reflection.

This week, Terrance presents a special program dedicated to the music of Arvo Pärt. We'll hear his most beloved works, as well as a new recording of Cantique for choir and orchestra. Also featured is his seminal collage piece, Collage sur B-A-C-H, paired with works by Johann Sebastian Bach.



"Berceuse de Noel" (Christmas Lullaby)
Arvo Pärt
Montserrat Figueras, soprano
Jordi Savall, viola da gamba
Serge Casademunt, viol
Sophie Watillon, viol
Arianna Savall, triple harp
Alia Vox 9826

Arvo Pärt
Die 12 Cellisten Der Berliner Philharmoniker
Franz Schindelbeck, bass drum
Angel/EMI 57030

Violin Partita No. 2: Chaconne in D Minor, BWV 1004
Johann Sebastian Bach
Awadagin Pratt, piano
Angel/EMI 55025

"Collage sur B-A-C-H"
Arvo Pärt
Moscow Virtuosi
Vladimir Spivakov, conductor
RCA 68061

Keyboard Concerto No. 5 in F Minor, BWV 1056
Johann Sebastian Bach
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Sir Neville Marriner, conductor
Andrei Gavrilov, piano
Angel/EMI 69717

For Alina
Arvo Pärt
Alexander Malter, piano
ECM 1591

Simple Symphony, Op. 4: Playful Pizzicato
Benjamin Britten
Guildhall String Ensemble
RCA 7846

Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten
Arvo Pärt
Moscow Virtuosi
Vladimir Spivakov, conductor
RCA 68061

Tabula Rasa
Arvo Pärt
Kremerata Baltica
Eri Klas, conductor
Gidon Kremer, violin
Tatiana Grindenko, violin
Reinut Tepp, prepared piano
Nonesuch 79582

Cantique des degres for Choir and Orchestra
Arvo Pärt
Rundfunk Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin
RIAS Kammerchor
Kristjan Jarvi, conductor
Sony 88697723342