Arvo Pärt

The Japanese Praemium Imperiale 2014 has been awarded to Estonian-born composer Arvo Pärt who is widely considered to be one of the most unique voices in the world of music. The prize is worth about 109.000 Euros.
Pärt started learning the piano from a very early age. In 1963, while working as a sound engineer for Estonian Radio, he graduated from the Tallinn State Conservatory (now known as the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre) at the age of 27. At that time, Estonia was under the Soviet regime and, as such, western contemporary music and religious music were prohibited. Despite such draconian restrictions, he managed to get hold of some books on dodecaphony and western taped music and studied contemporary music by himself. His experimental music based on dodecaphonic technique, drew criticism from the Soviet regime and left him too feeling stuck with no apparent way out. He decided, in order to break this deadlock, to « return to the origin of western music. » So from the late 1960s, he entered a period of self imposed, creative exile where he studied intensively; Gregorian chants, the Notre Dame School and Renaissance vocal polyphony.

As a devout believer in the Russian Orthodox Church, he searched for « the beginning » of music, keeping away from complex contemporary music. Finally, in 1976 after « 8 years’ silence », he emerged with a small piano piece, Für Alina, his first composition in his newly created tintinnabuli (tintinnabulum – Latin for ‘little bell’) technique – a technique which blends two musical lines, the melodic voice and the triadic voice, into an organic whole, confirming the establishment of the new musical language.

Pärt has found great success with both his instrumental pieces, such as Tabula rasa (1977) and Spiegel im Spiegel (1978) and with the choral music that is so often inspired by liturgical texts, such as Passio (1982), Stabat Mater (1985), Miserere (1989), Kanon pokajanen (1997) and many others. His solemn music with almost hypnotic qualities is enjoyed in concert and in recording, in film and documentaries.

In 1980, Pärt and his family left Estonia, first for Vienna and then for Berlin. In 2010 when Pärt’s 75th birthday was celebrated throughout Estonia, they returned to their homeland and near Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, the Arvo Pärt Centre was founded. The aim of the centre is to create opportunities for preserving and researching the creative heritage of the composer in his native land. The composer’s personal archive houses many important documents connected to his life and work, including his hand-written music scores. Arvo Pärt is the first Estonian recipient of the Praemium Imperiale Award.

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