Arvo Part

Arvo Part

Arvo Part

Arvo Part


Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is a unique voice in today's music. Using a tonal idiom based on a mixture of scales and triads, Pärt created a style called "tintinnabuli." In this first full-length study, Paul Hillier draws on his own considerable experience working with Pärt and his music to explore the famous tintinnabuli works in depth. Hillier covers the music of Pärt's earlier, somewhat neglected serial period as well, and sheds valuable light on the development of Pärt's music by looking at Pärt's biography and at the influences of Russian Orthodox spirituality, minimalism, and early music.

With the increasing popularity of recording and performing Pärt's music, Hillier's own thoughts on performance issues will be especially welcome in the world of contemporary music.

The book includes appendices containing a discography, a bibliography, and a list of works.


It was in London's Victoria Station that I first met Arvo Pärt, on a rainy January day in 1984. He was travelling back to Germany with his young son after visiting friends who lived in Essex. On the train to Gatwick I plied him with questions about various works, my wife, who speaks Estonian, translating. This meeting led eventually to a BBC Radio programme, which in turn led directly to the Arbos recording, and then on to many, many performances, and to the recordings of Passio, Miserere, and other works.

I had first encountered Pärt's music a couple of years earlier. The initial attraction was essentially visual: the notation had the appearance of having been refracted through medieval music, though there was also something else that fascinated me. The scores I saw then (small, oblong productions that had been published in Tallinn) seemed primarily to consist of just a few dots on the page and some sustained, drone-like square shapes. There was almost nothing there . . . but from my experiences with medieval music, I knew that therefore everything might be there. I felt like one of those English travellers of an earlier epoch, confronting a foreign desert and discovering that something powerful and joyful was offered by its luminous emptiness. I must confess that I still cling to that vision, and I remain drawn above all to the early tintinnabuli works, which reach their apotheosis in Passio.

Although at that time and for a few years longer Pärt would remain relatively unknown in the West, the forces that would help bring his name to prominence were already at work. In retrospect, I have the sense of a network spreading across from the East, with important centres in Germany, and reaching out to touch England and even, briefly, New York. It was a relatively small network -- had we known each other, we might conceivably have constituted a large dinner party in someone's house.

Since then, things have certainly changed, and Pärt's following has grown beyond all expectations. From being the almost hidden object of obscure enthusiasms, his music has come to be recognized and celebrated around the world to a degree rivalled in recent times only by that of the American 'minimalists'. From one moment to the next . . .

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