05 September 2019, The Tablet

Arvo Pärt’s spiritual journey


Arvo Pärt’s spiritual journey

Arvo Pärt, a winner of the 2017 Ratzinger Prize for those who make significant contributions to theology and culture, performs during an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican
Photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano

 

Although he was forced by Soviet authorities into life of exile from his native land for many years, and while his minimalist music is characterised by profound serenity and melancholy, this great Estonian composer is a remarkably cheerful and boyish presence

Arvo Pärt was born in in the Baltic republic of Estonia in 1935. His music suggests the contemplative devotion and ritual simplicity of medieval plainchant and Gregorian chorale, though it could only have been written today; it is at once archaic and abstract-modern.

Perhaps it is merely romantic to suggest that this music, with its sense of space, stasis and light, reflects something of the Baltic landscape. Medieval German and Danish chroniclers spoke of a shadowy, sea-girt place called Estland with a boundless immensity of forest. When asked, however, Pärt says he does not think of his work as definingly Estonian; people may divine a Baltic “otherness” in his sublimely bleak Fourth Symphony or in the tonal simplicity of his Magnificat for chorus, but Pärt does not. In 1972 he was received into the Russian Orthodox Church. He remains the pre-eminent religious composer of our time.

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