Arvo Pärt: The Sacred and Religious in Music

Issue 1709

14 October 2017

Arvo Pärt was born September 11, 1935, in Paide, Estonia, at that time part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics . His family moved soon after to Rakvere. During an otherwise ordinary education, Arvo began to learn to play the piano and other musical instruments. Following his military service, he attended the Tallinn Conservatory. The professors there were strongly influenced by the music of the Russian composers Alexander Glazunov and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

His formation was typical for composers of the late 19th century and early 20th century, but a job as a sound technician gave him the chance to listen to contemporary compositions that were rarely performed or transmitted. Hence, he gained particularly wide-ranging and unusual experience for a musician working in one of the Warsaw Treaty countries.

In 1958, Pärt composed the Zwei Sonatinen op. 1 for piano, while the concerto for cello and orchestra Pro et Contra (1967) can be considered his first major composition. Commissioned by the great Russian virtuoso, Mstislav Rostropovich, it was created using a collage technique and drew from pre-existing pieces, like the Collage über BACH (1964).

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