From Cued Up On Q2: The Music of Arvo Pärt

“On November 10, 2010, (Le) Poisson Rouge held a 75th birthday celebration for both [Arvo] Pärt and Giya Kancheli, two of the most reflective sounding composers to rise from the ashes of World War II-era Europe. This Sunday, January 23 at 2 p.m., enjoy a concert of the birthday boys’ music in your own home.

Arvo Pärt

Giya Kancheli

Born in Estonia, Pärt (1935) had a tumultuous and complex relationship with Soviet forces, which occupied the country on and off from 1940 to 1991. Some of his first music — an exploration into the more 12-tone and serialist-flavored kinds of art music — was banned by the regime’s censors. In 1980, he skipped town to avoid the Soviet’s reach, bouncing around different parts of Western Europe ever since. Around the time of his Soviet departure, he developed an idiosyncratic brand of minimalism to express himself with, earning the praises of many fellow composers.

In an article from 2004, Steve Reich boils it down: “[Pärt] is completely out of step with the Zeitgeist, and yet he’s enormously popular, which is so inspiring…

Here is the best description of Arvo Pärt’s work I have ever read. It is by Stephen Hill of Hearts of Space (H.O.S.), San Fransisco, CA.
This text introduces H.O.S. Program 375, Constant Stillness originally aired on Public Radio stations December 23, 1994:

Stephen Hill

As we reach the waning days of another year, many people try and take the time to reflect on our increasingly complex lives. It’s at these times the music of the contemporary Estonian composer ARVO Pärt takes on a special importance, due to its simplicity and innocent spirituality.

Pärt writes music rich with silence against the general turmoil and hubbub of the world. His constant desire is to express the mysterious, the numinous, and the unknowable. “Time and timelessness are connected,” he says. “This instant and eternity are struggling within us. And this is the cause of all our obstinacy, our narrow mindedness, our faith, and our grief.”

Many writers have tried to fathom the meaning and the method of ARVO PART’s music, but none better than Part himself. Of his minimalist style he says, “The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity. I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comfort me. So I work with very few elements, with one voice, with two voices. I build with the most primitive of materials.”

Of his TE DEUM, he says, “I wished only to convey a mood. A mood that could be infinite in time, but by delicately removing one piece, one particle of time, out of the flow of infinity. I have to draw this music gently out of silence, and emptiness.

On this edition of Hearts of Space a program dedicated entirely to the music of Arvo Pärt, called CONSTANT STILLNESS.”

“Ravenously lapping up the music of Pärt and Hungarian-born Kancheli are percussionist Andrei Pushkarev and pianist Andrius Zlabys, whose fierce command over their instruments never one-ups the music itself. Vibraphone and piano whirl around each other in a recital of Part’s Für Alina, Passacaglia; selections from The Songbook by Kancheli; and Bach’s Partita No 6.