Arvo Pärt was born in 1935 in Paide (Estonia). He studied at the Tallinn State Conservatoire graduating in 1963. Pärt worked as a sound engineer at the Estonian Radio from 1958 to 1967. Estonian music in the 1960s was shaped by an entire generation of innovative composers with a modern approach - almost simultaneously through their music all the most important styles and compositional techniques of the 20th century were introduced to Estonian music. The works of Pärt proved to pioneer many of these areas: Nekrolog is the first dodecaphonic, Perpetuum mobile the first sonoristic and Collage sur B-A-C-H (1964) the first work employing the collage-technique in Estonian music. Paradoxically, Arvo Pärt was one of the most productive and highly valued composers for film in Estonia throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In 1967, he had become a freelance composer and after the events following Credo, film music was the only field Pärt could openly engage in. However, the main events during those years took place hidden from the rest of the world.
Regarding his concert music, in 1968, Pärt gave up all styles, techniques and means of expression used before and withdrew. Nevertheless, as a crisis, it turned out to be one of the most productive in music history, involving a radical change in the author’s style, impossible to predict even for the composer himself. “I didn’t know at the time that was I going to be able to compose at all in the future. Those years of study were no conscious break, but life and death agonising inner conflict. I had lost my inner compass and I didn’t know anymore, what an interval or a key meant”, Pärt recalled many years later.
In his new quest for self expression Pärt turned even more intensively towards the early music. After all that intensive research, Pärt emerged in 1976 with a new and highly original musical language, which he called tintinnabuli (from Latin for ’little bell’). The new language first appears in a short piece for piano, Für Alina, followed soon by masterpieces like Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten (1977), Tabula rasa (1977) and Spiegel im Spiegel (1978). Pärt has now been composing in his tintinnabuli-style for almost 40 years, and it has proven to be a rich and inexhaustible creative source. The first tintinnabuli works were composed and premiered in Tallinn, Estonia – the USSR at that time – but in order to continue, the composer needed complete creative freedom. In January 1980, Arvo Pärt was forced to emigrate to Vienna with his wife Nora and two sons. A year later the family moved on a DAAD scholarship to Berlin, where they lived for 30 years. It was also in Germany, where the lasting collaboration with Manfred Eicher, founder and producer of the renowned ECM label, began. In 1984, ECM released Tabula rasa launching a whole new, highly successful series of recordings under the ECM New Series title, which brought Pärt to the world. His music was soon included in the programmes of many renowned festivals, orchestras and ensembles as well as television and radio broadcasts. Since this debut album, all the first recordings of Pärt’s major works have been released under ECM.
After Estonia regained its independence in 1991, the connections between the Pärt family and Estonia as well as its music scene were restored. In the 1990s, his works were often performed as part of Estonian concert programmes, and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra and Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir under the baton of Tõnu Kaljuste also released their first recordings of Pärt’s music under ECM. Arvo Pärt has lived permanently in Estonia since 2010.