Pärt was born in 1935 in Paide, Estonia. After studying in Heino Eller’s
composition class in Tallinn, he worked from 1958 to 1967 as a sound engineer for Estonian Radio. In 1980, he
immigrated with his family to Vienna, and then traveled a year later on
a DAAD scholarship to Berlin.
As one of the most radical representatives of the so-called “Soviet
avant-garde,” Pärt’s work passed through a
profound evolutionary process. His first creative period began with neo-Classical piano music, followed by 10 years during which he experimented with
the most important compositional techniques of the avant-garde: dodecaphony,
sound-mass composition, aleatoricism, and collage technique. Nekrolog (1960)—the first piece of
dodecaphonic music written in Estonia—and Perpetuum
mobile (1963) earned the composer’s first recognition in the West. In his
collage works, avant-garde and early music confront each other boldly and
irreconcilably—this confrontation attaining its most extreme expression in his
last collage piece Credo (1968). But
by this time, all previously employed compositional devices had lost all their
former fascination and seemed pointless to Pärt. The search for his own voice
drove him into a withdrawal from creative work that lasted nearly eight years;
during this period, he immersed himself in studies of Gregorian chant, the
Notre Dame school, and Classical vocal polyphony.
In 1976, music emerged from the silence with the little piano piece Für Alina. It is obvious that with this work, Pärt had discovered his own path. The
new compositional principle used here for the first time, which he
called tintinnabuli (Latin for
“little bells”), has defined his work right
up to today. The tintinnabuli principle strives towards an extreme reduction of
sound materials and a limitation to
Pärt’s achievements were honored in his 61st year by his election to the
American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2000, he was nominated as the 14th
International Composer by London’s Royal Academy of Music. In May 2003, he also
received the Contemporary Music Award at the Classic BRIT Awards ceremony.
In the Composer’s Own Words
I first saw Marsyas by Anish Kapoor
in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, the impact that it had upon me was a
powerful one. In his sculpture, Kapoor has caught very well the tragic element
of the Greek Marsyas myth. It was this tragic aspect that inspired me and
provided the foundation for my composition Lamentate. Death
and suffering are themes that concern every person born into this world. The way in which the individual
comes to terms with these issues (or fails to do so) determines his
attitude towards life. Accordingly, I have written a lamento—not for the dead, but for the living, who have to deal with
these issues for themselves—a lamento
for us, who don’t have it easy in dealing with the pain and hopelessness of
Lamentate is music written for piano
solo and orchestra. With respect to its form, however, the composition cannot
really be described as a typical piano concerto. I chose the piano to be the
solo instrument because it fixes our attention on something that is “one.” This
“one” could be a person, or perhaps a first-person narrative. Just as the
sculpture leaves the viewer with a light and floating impression in spite of
its overwhelming size, the piano—as a large instrument—allowed me to create a
sphere of intimacy and warmth that no longer seems anonymous or abstract.
Overall, it could be said that my work is marked by two diametrically opposed
moods: I would characterize these two poles as being “brutal-overwhelming” and
“intimate-fragile.” The two characters are not simply placed opposite one
another, but are left to develop themselves in a conflict that runs throughout
the entire work.
Symphony No. 9
Glass has had an extraordinary and unprecedented
impact on the musical and intellectual life
of his times through his operas, symphonies, and compositions for his own ensemble; as well as his wide-ranging
collaborations with artists ranging from Twyla Tharp to Allen Ginsberg, Woody
Allen to David Bowie.
Glass’s operas—Einstein on the Beach,
Satyagraha, Akhnaten, and The
Voyage, among many others—play throughout
the world’s leading houses and rarely to an empty seat. Glass has written music for experimental theater and for Academy Award–winning motion
pictures such as The Hours and Martin
Scorsese’s Kundun. Koyaanisqatsi, his initial filmic
landscape with Godfrey Reggio and the Philip Glass Ensemble, may be the most
radical and influential mating of sound and vision since Fantasia. His personal and professional associations with leading
rock, pop, and world-music artists date back to the 1960s, including his
collaborative relationship with artist Robert Wilson. Indeed, Glass is the
first composer to win a wide, multi-generational audience in the opera house
and concert hall, as well as in popular music, film, and the dance world.
Glass was born in 1937 and grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. He studied at The
University of Chicago, The Juilliard School, and in Aspen with Darius Milhaud.
Finding himself dissatisfied with much of what then passed for modern music, he
moved to Europe, where he studied with the legendary pedagogue Nadia Boulanger
(who also taught Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, and Quincy Jones) and worked
closely with the sitar virtuoso and composer Ravi Shankar. He returned to New
York in 1967 and formed the Philip Glass Ensemble; these seven musicians
performed on keyboards and a variety of woodwinds that were amplified and fed
through a mixer.
The new musical style that Glass was
developing was eventually dubbed “minimalism.” Glass himself never liked
the term and prefers to identify his work as “music with repetitive
structures.” Much of his early work was based on the extended reiteration of
brief, elegant, melodic fragments that wove in and out of an aural tapestry. To
put it another way, his music immersed a listener in a sort of sonic weather
that would twist, turn, surround, and develop.
In the past 25 years, Glass has composed more than 20 operas, both large and
small; nine symphonies (with others already on the way); concertos for piano, violin, timpani, and saxophone quartet;
string quartets; a growing body of work for solo piano and organ; and
soundtracks for films ranging from the stylized classics of Jean Cocteau to
Errol Morris’s documentary about former defense secretary Robert McNamara. He
has collaborated with Paul Simon, Linda Ronstadt, Yo-Yo Ma, and Doris Lessing,
among many others. He presents lectures, workshops,
and solo keyboard performances around the world, and continues to appear
regularly with the Philip Glass Ensemble.
ACO has had a long and fruitful relationship with Glass. He wrote his first
commissioned orchestral work, The Violin
Concerto, for ACO, and it was premiered here at Carnegie Hall in 1987. ACO
also premiered his Sixth Symphony here in 2002. ACO performed the US premiere
of his opera White Raven (2001), and
has recorded two of Glass’s works: Symphony No. 4, “Heroes”; and the CIVIL warS. Glass is also a board
member of ACO.
About the Music
No. 9 is a large-scale, three-movement work for orchestra. Direct in form, it
is formidable in performance with doubled piccolos, bass brass, and timpani, as
well as a fortified horn section. Symphony No. 9 promises to be, in Glass’s
words, “big and unrelenting.” Avoiding solo passagework, the work is a real
team effort throughout the course of the piece. Each movement follows a similar
plan: a broadly stated opening theme; a
contrasting, highly energized middle
section; and a slower ending with a new version of the opening theme.
The music becomes increasingly dense and contrapuntal throughout the course of
the piece, giving the whole work its overall dramatic shape.
Though the piece has no programmatic influence, Glass does admit to reworking a
theme used in a film called Rebirth,
which will be played in an exhibit at the Ground Zero Museum. It appears in the
beginning of the second movement and is considerably transformed by the time he
is finished with it.