I came across this composer over 25 years ago as I was beginning to explore some of the “lesser known” composers of the old Soviet bloc.
A native of Estonia, Arvo Pärt at first wrote in a style perceptibly influenced by Russian composers. Having then explored the 12-note system through the 1960s, he developed his own tonal technique which he calls ‘tintinnabuli’ (after the bell-like impression of notes in a triad). This technique has been employed in many works since, which are often coloured by the influence of early musical traditions and Pärt’s deep religious feeling.
In 1976 Pärt wrote a moving tribute to Benjamin Britten, Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, for string orchestra and bell. His cello concerto Pro et contra and three symphonies reflect the course his music has taken. Tabula Rasa is in the form of a double violin concerto, while Collage über BACH represents an earlier period of his work.
A wind Quintettino of 1965 was followed in 1977 by the interesting chamber work Fratres (subsequently arranged for various alternative instrumental combinations) and in 1978 by Spiegel im Spiegel (‘Mirror in the Mirror’) for viola and piano (also arranged for cello and piano).
Pärt has made a particularly strong impression with works such as his Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi secundum Johannem (St John Passion), his Stabat mater for three solo voices and string trio, his Miserere of 1989, and the Biblical Sarah was 90 Years Old. Triodion marked the 150th anniversary of the foundation of Lancing College, and other commissions range from I am the True Vine for Norwich Cathedral to Dopo la vittoria for the 1,600th anniversary of the death of St Ambrose. His Berlin Mass was commissioned for the 90th German Catholic Day and his Magnificat by the German Musikrat.
Trying to choose a piece of music by Pärt is quite difficult as there are so many beautiful pieces, particularly among his works for choirs. So I have chosen what has probably become his best known work thanks to Classic FM. It is the simplistic austerity of the piece that I find most appealing, So enjoy Nicola Benedetti playing Spiegel im Spiegel preferably with the lights turned down and a glass of excellent chilled sauvignon blanc in your hand…………….