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Arvo Part (Composer)

Arvo Part (born 11 September 1935, in Paide, Jarva County, Estonia) is an Estonian classical composer. Part works in a minimalist style that employs tintinnabulation and hypnotic repetitions influenced by the intellectual counterpoint elements of European jazz, and is generally placed within European-American classical post-modernism.

Continuing struggles with Soviet officials led him to emigrate in 1980 with his wife and their two sons. Part lived first in Vienna, Austria, where he took Austrian citizenship, and then re-located to Berlin, Germany, where he still lives.

Musical development
Very familiar works of his are Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten for string orchestra and bell (1977) and the string quintet "Fratres I" (1977, revised 1983), which he orchestrated for string orchestra and percussion, the solo violin "Fratres II" and the cello ensemble "Fratres III" (both 1980).

Part is often identified with the school of minimalism and, more specifically, that of mystic minimalism or holy minimalism. He is considered a pioneer of this style, along with contemporaries Henryk Gorecki and John Tavener. Although his fame initially rested on instrumental works such as Tabula Rasa and Spiegel im Spiegel, his choral works have also come to be widely appreciated.

Part`s musical education began at age seven. He began attending music school in Rakvere, where his family lived. By the time he reached his early teen years, Part was writing his own compositions. While studying composition with Heino Eller at the Tallinn Conservatory in 1957, it was said of him that "he just seemed to shake his sleeves and notes would fall out."

In this period of Estonian history, Part was unable to encounter many musical influences from outside the Soviet Union except for a few illegal tapes and scores. Although Estonia had been an independent Baltic state at the time of Part`s birth, the Soviet Union occupied it in 1940 as a result of the Soviet-Nazi Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact; and the country would then remain under Soviet domination—except for the three-year period of German wartime occupation—for the next 51 years.

Musical oeuvre
Arvo Part`s oeuvre is generally divided into two periods.

His early works ranged from rather severe neo-classical styles influenced by Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Bartok. He then began to compose using Schoenberg`s twelve-tone technique and serialism. This, however, not only earned the ire of the Soviet establishment, but also proved to be a creative dead-end. When early works were banned by Soviet censors, Part entered the first of several periods of contemplative silence, during which he studied choral music from the 14th to 16th centuries. In this context, Part`s biographer, Paul Hillier, observed that "He had reached a position of complete despair in which the composition of music appeared to be the most futile of gestures, and he lacked the musical faith and will-power to write even a single note."

The spirit of early European polyphony informed the composition of Part`s transitional Third Symphony (1971); and thereafter, he immersed himself in early music, re-investigating the roots of Western music. He studied plainsong, Gregorian chant, and the emergence of polyphony in the European Renaissance. The music that began to emerge after this period was radically different. This period of new compositions included Fratres, Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten, and Tabula Rasa.

Part describes it as tintinnabuli—like the ringing of bells. The music is characterized by simple harmonies, often single unadorned notes, or triads, which form the basis of Western harmony. These are reminiscent of ringing bells. Tintinnabuli works are rhythmically simple and do not change tempo. The influence of early European music is clear. Another characteristic of Part`s later works is that they are frequently settings for sacred texts, although he mostly chooses Latin or the Church Slavonic language used in Orthodox liturgy instead of his native Estonian language. Large-scale works inspired by religious texts include St. John Passion, Te Deum, and Litany. Choral works from this period include Magnificat and The Beatitudes.

Of his popularity, Steve Reich has written:"Even in Estonia, Arvo was getting the same feeling that we were all getting. I love his music, and I love the fact that he is such a brave, talented man. [...] He`s completely out of step with the zeitgeist and yet he`s enormously popular, which is so inspiring. His music fulfills a deep human need that has nothing to do with fashion." —Steve Reich

Arvo Part`s music came to public attention in the West, largely thanks to Manfred Eicher who recorded several of Part`s compositions for ECM Records starting in 1984.

Part has said that his music is similar to light going through a prism: the music may have a slightly different meaning for each listener, thus creating a spectrum of musical experience, similar to the rainbow of light.

A new composition, Fur [for] Lennart, written for the memory of the Estonian President Lennart Meri, was played at his funeral service on 2 April 2006.

In response to the murder of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow on 7 October 2006, Part declared that all his works performed in 2006-2007 would be in commemoration of her death:

"Anna Politkovskaya staked her entire talent, energy and – in the end – even her life on saving people who had become victims of the abuses prevailing in Russia."— Arvo Part
Part was honored as the featured composer of the 2008 RTE Living Music Festival[6] in Dublin, Ireland. He was also commissioned by Louth Contemporary Music Society to compose a new choral work based on St. Patricks Breastplate, which premiered in 2008 in Louth, Ireland. The new work is called The Deers Cry. This is the composer`s first Irish commission, having its debut in Drogheda and Dundalk in February 2008.

Also a new composition in 2008 is Symphony No. 4, named “Los Angeles” and dedicated to Mikhail Khodorkovsky. It is his first symphony written for over 37 years, since 1971`s Symphony No. 3. It premiered in Los Angeles, California, at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on January 10, 2009.

Part`s music has been featured in over 50 films, from Vaike motoroller (1962) to Promised Land (2004).

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