We continue to share the booklet notes from Delos’ recent release, 20th Century Russian Piano Music, from the noted artist Vladimir Yurigin-Klevke (read more here). Today we feature his notes on Arvo Pärt.
Arvo Pärt — Partita
In 1980, the composer left the USSR, and in conformity with the “tradition” of the time, his compositions were struck from the concert programs in his country and from musicological studies. Yet, in theWest, where Arvo Pärt settled after he left the USSR (first in Vienna and then in Berlin) he is still considered a Soviet composer.
Arvo Pärt’s creative potential manifested itself already during his years in the Tallinn Conservatory where he studied under Heino Eller and from which he graduated in 1963. He earned his first public renown with his piano compositions— two sonatinas and the Partita (1958-1959). They are neoclassical in style, revealing, however, some individual features of the composer’s personal manner — a comparative intonational rigidity, a powerful volitional drive and compactness of form. His official recognition in 1962, followed by an award for the oratorio Walk of Peace and cantata Our Garden, came along with no less official condemnation of his
Obituary for large symphony orchestra where the composer employed dodecaphony (1960), and which was received with considerable disapproval. Afterwards, during the 1960s, the heroic age for the Soviet avant garde, Pärt became associated with the idea of the twelve-tone row, leading to a total twelve-tone idiom. This was a road common to many composers, although Pärt stood out due to his radicalism. Yet there was another feature which distinguished him from others. To some extent he always surpassed his colleagues; anticipating the evolution of present- day music, he could express the essence of the new stylistic situation in a concise and complete way.
For example, his Concerto for Cello and Orchestra Pro et contra (1966), an accurate expression of a multi-semantic polystylistic conflict, can be identified as a “formula” of its kind. This line is brought to a culmination with his Credo in which the quoted C Major prelude from Volume 1 of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier plays an important dramatic role. Yet Credo uncovers another essential feature of Pärt’s creative aspirations— his interest in liturgical genres and sacred texts which is fully revealed in his later works. The inclusion of biblical texts in the score
indeed jeopardized the Credo, which was practically banned by the composer’s immersion in the music of the European Middle Ages, to be continued afterwards in the 1970s, announcing a new stage of his creative achievements. The Third Symphony is indeed closely related to the music of the medieval period, signifying the composer’s abandonment of his earlier idiom. In the mid-1970s he developed a new style which he duly designated with the Latin word Tintinnabuli (bells). The same title was given to a cycle, or rather collection, of various instrumental and vocal pieces written at that time. As the composer maintains, “the beauty of natural bell sound is associated with euphony or rather a triad which serves as an intonational, as well as structural, form building basis.” Later, Pärt called his tintinnabuli style “an escape into voluntary poverty.” He also associates it with the Gregorian chorale. “Gregorian chants
revealed to me what cosmic mystery is concealed in the art of combining two or three musical notes….”
This style is subject to natural evolution. The “polyphonic minimalism” of Tabula Rasa and Cantus is eventually displaced by an ever more ascetic mode with a prevailing one-, two- or three-part writing. Extreme self-restraint is consequently extended to the texture too. This type of writing is characteristic of Pärt in his liturgical works which outline the main sphere of his creative activity. His two major works in this field are the Latin St. John Passion (1977) and Stabat mater (1985).
Arvo Pärt’s “new simplicity” is indeed novel. Free of any naive neoprimitivism, his escape into the past in fact paves a way to the future. Obviously, this road is purely individual.