By: Brian Berger
September 11, 2010

Though Estonian composer ARVO PÄRT (born 1935)’s best-loved work seems merely serene and devotional, he is a divisive figure. Studies with the influential teacher Heino Eller at the Talinn Conservatory revealed Pärt a highly skilled exponent of mid-century eclectic modernism; few listeners to his complex, often extroverted music of the late 1950s and ’60s would likely recognize its composer. Pärt’s frustrations — creative, spiritual, political — increased with time, culminating in 1971’s calmer, disquieting Symphony No. 3, a work followed by one symphonic cantata and four years’ silence. When Pärt reappeared in 1976 with works like Fratres and Tabula Rasa, he’d call their dramatically less complex style “tintinnabuli” — while others misleadingly adduced it a form of minimalism. Either way, neither the old nor new Pärt were cause for much controversy, because both were nearly unknown. This changed in 1984, when ECM Records released the first of an ongoing, successful series of Pärt albums. While some aggressive modernists and medievalists thought Part’s music insipid, many disparate others found his music — even the choral works reflecting the composer’s severe Eastern Orthodox faith — revelatory. Pärt continues to surprise: 2009 saw the premier of his long-awaited fourth symphony, dedicated to Russian political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky and titled Los Angeles.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: T.W. Adorno.

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