The Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) is one of the most performed contemporary composers in the world. He was born in Paide, Järva County, and began attending music school in Rakvere. By his early teenage years, Pärt was writing his own compositions. After his military service he attended the Tallinn Conservatory, where he studied composition with Heino Eller. During the 1950s, he completed his first vocal composition, the cantata Meie aed (‘Our Garden’) for children’s choir and orchestra. He graduated in 1963. From 1957 to 1967, he worked as a sound producer for the Estonian public radio broadcaster Eesti Rahvusringhääling.
The composer was criticized in 1962 for employing serialism in his work Nekrolog (1960), which is the first 12-tone music written in Estonia. In 1963, Pärt won First Prize in All-Union competition of 1,200 works. His sacred piece, Credo (1968), was a turning point in his career. He had reached a creative crisis that led him to renounce the techniques and means of expression used so far. For the next years he composed very little, focusing instead on study of medieval and Renaissance music to find his new musical language. In 1972, he converted from Lutheranism to Orthodox Christianity. In 1976, Pärt re-emerged as a composer with music in his new compositional style and technique, tintinnabuli. Für Alina, for piano (1976) was the first tintinnabuli-piece, followed by many others.
Both the avant-garde spirit of Pärt’s early works as well as the religious aspect of the music he composed in 1970s led to controversial reviews and confrontations with Soviet officials. In 1980, Arvo Pärt and his family were forced to emigrate – first to Vienna and then to Berlin, where they stayed for almost 30 years.
Pärt’s oeuvre is rich and versatile, including many large-scale compositions for choir and orchestra, four symphonies and works for soloists and orchestra, as well as numerous choral pieces and chamber music. His most familiar works are Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten, Tabula Rasa, Spiegel im Spiegel, Fratres I, II and III, Magnificat-Antiphons, The Beatitudes, Lamentate (first performed 2003), Adam’s Lament, and others.