Creative Periods (1/3)
Neoclassicism – Avant-garde
As befits one of the most radical exponents of the so-called Soviet Avant-garde, Pärt’s oeuvre bears witness to the composer’s own deep-reaching musical evolution. His first period of creativity began with neo-classicist piano music (Two Sonatinas op. 1 and Partita op. 2), with the next ten years being given over to the most important compositional techniques of the avantgarde – twelve-tone serialism, sonic fields, indeterminism, collage technique – all of which saw highly original use in his music.
Nekrolog (1960) was the young composer’s first important work and, at the same time, the first twelve-tone work of Estonian provenance. It was both his first success and his first scandal, provoking official accusations of “western decadence”.
Perpetuum Mobile (1963) is one single, pulsing, powerful wave of sound, which is constructed from variously pulsating individual parts. The piece is characterized by its serial structure, which is reduced to radically simple formulae. Both works, Nekrolog and Perpetuum Mobile, garnered the composer initial recognition in the West.
Symphony No. 1 (1963) – the composition with which he earned his diploma. Arvo Pärt left the academy as an experienced and mature composer.
Collage sur B-A-C-H (1964), Pro et Contra (1966), Symphony Nr. 2 (1966). The composer’s further stylistic development led him to experiment with collage technique. In the works of this period, Pärt juxtaposed two highly discrepant ideas of sound: avant-garde passages alternate with direct quotations or imitations of earlier musical styles. His own music suddenly took on the nature of arena, playing host to battles between the stylistic means of modernity (Pärt’s music) and the simple, transcendental beauty on which he had set his sights (the musical quotations). New and old music stood opposite one another, irreconcilably at odds. This sort of confrontation experienced its ultimate, unsurpassed climax in his last collage work, Credo.
Credo (1968). With this work, in which the composer took on Bach’s Prelude in C Major (WTC 1), Pärt intensified and hardened his musical language to an extreme degree – “an amassment of violent power, straining at its own limits like an avalanche” (Pärt). This battle between the two musical worlds is concluded by Bach’s victory over the modernistic cataclysms in Pärt’s own music (The Credo Scandal - At the time of its première, Pärt’s open affirmation of his Christian faith (the sung text “Credo in Jesum Christum”) amounted to an additional political provocation, and it was viewed as an attack on the regime. This scandal was part of the wild, incessant back-and-forth between approval and outright rejection, which had begun with “Nekrolog” in 1960 and finally culminated in Pärt’s emigration: in 1980, Estonia’s communist government encouraged him to leave the country.).