The cultural roots of Arvo Pärt´s music

Arvo Pärt (born in 1935) is the most widely known composer of Estonian origin. Pärt’s oeuvre is generally divided into two periods. His early compositions were influenced by modernist trends in Western music such as neo-classicism and twelve-tone technique as well as by the post-war avant-garde. Since the late 1970s, Pärt has worked in a ‘new simplistic’ style that employs a self-made compositional technique called tintinnabuli — the ringing of bells. This period of new compositions includes Fratres, Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten, and Tabula Rasa. Spiegel im Spiegel (1978) is among the best-known examples of the tintinnabuli style, which has been used in many films.
This seminar is aimed for Ph.D. students of GSCSA in various fields of cultural research. Every lecture is followed by discussion. Students are expected to do preparatory reading in order to join in the discussions. Upon full participation in the study programme and completion of a 1000-word essay students will be awarded 2 ECTS points. The language of the seminar is English. Essay can be written in Estonian or in English. Prof. Jaan Ross will be reading the essays.
Essay topic: “Arvo Pärdi muusika tõlgendamise erinevad võimalused” / “The music by Arvo Pärt: different possibilities of understanding”

Deadline Oct 25th

Please send your essay by email:
Registration is closed.
For more information, please contact Marju Raju ( )

EMTA orelisaal (A 404)
15. Oct (Friday)
11.00 – 11.15 opening the seminar, Jaan Ross, director of GSCSA
11.15 – 13.00 Jeffers Engelhardt: Pärt, icons and orthodox theology
13.00 – 14.15 lunch
14.15 – 16.00 Saale Kareda: The complex austere simplicity of the Tintinnabuli style by Arvo Pärt
16.00 – 16.15 coffee break
16.15 – 18.00 Leopold Brauneiss: Less is more: voluntary self-restriction in Pärt’s Tintinnabuli style, its manner and meaning in aesthetic, cultural and spiritual context
EMTA ooperistuudio (A 403)
16. Oct (Saturday)
10.15 – 12.00 Jeffers Engelhardt: Pärt, media and technology
12.00 – 13.00 lunch
13.00 – 14.45 Saale Kareda: Tintinnabuli as an expression of the harmonic principles
14.45 – 15.00 coffee break
15.00 – 16.45 Leopold Brauneiss: The primary categories of time, space and sound and their interdependencies in Pärt’s music
17. Oct (Sunday)
10.00 bus to Laulasmaa
11.00 excursion in International Arvo Pärt Centre (
13.00 lunch (Lohusalu Sadama Pubi)
14.00 bus back to Tallinn
15.00 end of the seminar

Jeffers Engelhardt
Pärt, icons and orthodox theology
This talk will explore the relationship of the Orthodox Christian theology of the icon, semiotic theories of iconicity, and Pärt’s tintinnabuli music. The aim of my talk will be to outline the ways in which religious and semiotic concepts of the icon inform the meanings invested in Pärt’s tintinnabuli music.
Reading (for both his seminar´s topics):
1. Hillier, Arvo Pärt (Oxford University Press):
1-33 (Soundinc icons, Biographical notes)
86-121 (Tintinnabuli, The early tintinnabuli works)
2. Restagno, Enzo. 2005 [2004]. Arvo Pärt peeglis : vestlused, esseed ja artiklid. [Arvo Pärt allo specchio. Conversazioni, saggi e testimonianze.] (Eesti Entsüklopeediakirjastus) 19-120

Additional readings:

1. Normet, Leo. 1988. “The Beginning Is Silence.” Teater. Muusika. Kino. 7: 19-31.

2. Randalu, Ivalo. 1988. “Arvo Pärt novembris 1978.” Teater. Muusika. Kino. 7: 48-55.

3. Vaitmaa, Merike. 1970. “Arvo Pärt.” Kuus Eesti tänase muusika loojat. Helju Tauk, ed. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 35-60.

Saale Kareda
The complex austere simplicity of the tintinnabuli style by Arvo Pärt
The tintinnabuli music by Arvo Pärt is one of the greatest enigmas of contemporary music. From which sources does this musical language, which is based on simple elements, but also contains highly complex structures, derive its magical power?
Pärt composes sacral music, mostly in accordance with sacred texts, but one should not over-evaluate this aspect, since his music does not only appeal to religious people. It is the demand for clarity, concentration and substantiality, the yearning and searching for the core of existence, which is not bound to any religious confession or ideology and which bewitches the audience.
In his tintinnabuli laboratory, Pärt examines the ancient tonal elementary cells and out of these, he creates fascinating new organisms. The internal structure of these works may not only be of interest for musicologists. Pärt has managed to break through to the ancient geometry, which is austere and simple, but also highly complicated at the same time
Neile, kes loevad eesti keeles:
1. Intervjuu Arvo Pärdiga Berliner Zeitungis (Muusika, aprill 2002)
2. Kareda, S. Armastus heli vastu: mõtisklusi Arvo Pärdi muusika tähendusest tänases maailmas (Sirp, 20. veebruar 2009)
3. Kareda, S. Mõistatuslik tintinnabuli. Pärdi tintinnabuli-stiili uurimise problemaatikast (TMK, 2003 nr 4)
4. Kähler, A. P. Vaikuse kiirgus. Arvo Pärdi muusika (instrumentaal)muusiku pilgu läbi (TMK, 2004 nr 5). Allalaaditav SIIT
Soovitav on lugeda ka Merike Vaitmaa artikleid:
1. “Tintinnabuli – eluhoiak, stiil ja tehnika” (TMK 1988 nr 7)
2. “Arvo Pärdi vokaallooming” (TMK 1991 nr 2)

In English: 5. Kareda, S., & Pärt, N. Arvo Pärt´s biography (SEDA LUGEDA KÕIGIL!)
6. Kähler, A. P. For the Performer
Leopold Brauneiss
Less is more: voluntary self-restriction in Pärt’s Tintinnabuli style, its manner and meaning in aesthetic, cultural and spiritual context
Pärt’s music in Tintinnabuli style is not intended to reflect the outer world either by mirroring it aesthetically or by responding to the conditions of life with individual expression. His highly formalized method of composing rather reveals certain attitudes towards music that correspond to attitudes towards life and are influenced by aesthetic, moral and religious ideals. Most important is voluntary self restriction: it is fundamental to Pärt’s goal not only to reduce the material to the most common and pre-existing elements of triad and diatonic scale, but also to restrict the influence of personal will in order to be open for the unexpected gift, in religious terms: the experience of God`s grace. From a moral point of view: To reduce the number of tones means that each tone is equally important and respected, one could even say loved. As self restriction goes hand in hand with a maximum of variety within the self imposed limitations, the listener is guided to realize small differences which are overheard in noisy music and surroundings. In this way the status of “less” can be enriching and thus be more.
1. Hillier, P. Arvo Pärt – Magister Ludi
2. Smith, G. Sources of invention. An interview with Arvo Pärt
Jeffers Engelhardt
Pärt, media and technology
This talk will explore ways in which Pärt’s music circulates in film, social media, and sample-based hip-hop. Here, I hope to show how Pärt’s music becomes global in novel ways as it intersects with technology and other media.
Saale Kareda
Tintinnabuli as an expression of the harmonic principles
The idea that the universe originated in sounds, or consists of sounds, was a widely shared belief in ancient civilizations. Harmonic thinking originated from the philosophy of antiquity, particularly from the Pythagorean doctrines on the overriding validity of musical laws in the universe. Harmonic thinking was based on numbers, proportions, harmonies, and analogies. The harmonic perspective recognizes that behind the natural laws, there obviously exists a concept in which simple numerical laws play an important role. One is led to think that these harmonic laws might represent the true structure of the universe, the true “organisation plan”. And the human being is much more integrated into this plan than into the widely accepted scientific view of the universe, specifically through consideration of the psycho-physical aspects of human hearing and the basis of human works of art.
As it was pointed out, there are analogies between nature, man and music. Beyond that, it was already believed in Greek antiquity that the human soul is “tuned” to musical intervals. Johannes Kepler represented the similar opinion that the origin of these intervals is to be found in the human soul.
The Tintinnabuli oeuvre of Pärt is created in accord with the ancient harmonic principles. It concerns the multidimensional core of the Tintinnabuli style, the inner structure of Tintinnabuli works, as well the idea that the basic formulas of Tintinnabuli music are connected with the human soul, as Arvo Pärt has stated.
With his compositions, Pärt has brought about a paradigm-shift in modern music, leading back in the direction of harmonic principles. Thereby he has helped many people find the way to a harmonious and coherent relationship with the universe and existence as a whole.
Eesti keeles:
1. Kareda, S. Nähtavad helid I-III (TMK 2006 nr 8/9 ja 2007 nr 3). Allalaaditavad siit:

2. Kareda, S. Fantaasia kvantfüüsika teemale (TMK, 2005 nr 4)

In English:
Smith, G. Sources of invention. An interview with Arvo Pärt
Leopold Brauneiss
The primary categories of time, space, sound and structure and their interdependence in Pärt’s music
Like a lot of music of the last 100 years, Tintinnabuli music does not develop motifs or themes, but unfolds musical structures and sounds in time and space. The correlations between these categories are however unique and overcome the traditional opposition of structure and sound by simplifying both of them: Usually just one triad, the so called Tintinnabuli-triad, sounds throughout a whole movement or part of it; the various combinations of its single tones gather to fill the virtual space of music as well as the real room where the performance takes place, instead of realising the flow of time. Thus this single omnipresent triadic sound – one might also say: a triadic area revealed bit by bit – represents timeless being, resting in itself. It is however structurally connected with a moving melodic voice often growing out of a single tone which marks a spatial and temporal starting point. As its range usually widens step by step in time, it represents a linear vectorial time, starting at the beginning of the musical cosmos of a composition, often with uncertain ending. Time and timeless are thus connected and struggling in music as well as within us. To quote Pärt: “Time and timelessness are connected. This instant and eternity are struggling within us.” There is little doubt that Pärt`s sounding structural landscapes which allow us to view the temporality of the melodic processes from various new perspectives, aim to overcome the restrictiveness of time, but have to do this within the span of time the individual work lasts. This contradiction is not only typical for the Tininnabuli style, but also for any kind of spiritual art.
Ross, A. Consolations: the uncanny voice of Arvo Pärt