1. Ceremony & Banquet 2023
2. Musical studies
3. Early avant-garde works
4. Creative pause
5. Tintinnabulli
6. 1980s exile
7. Choir works & religious influence
8. Back in Estonia & awards
2023 Laureate


The Polar Music Prize 2023 is awarded to Arvo Pärt from Estonia. Composer Arvo Pärt has likened his music to white light. It is in the encounter with the prism of the listener’s soul that all colors become visible. Anyone who has heard his laconic, reduced compositions will understand this perfectly. Influenced by sacred music, especially Gregorian chant, Arvo Pärt has created the compositional style tintinnabuli, from the Latin word for 'bell', in which the music moves according to a given structure. In 2006 and 2007, Arvo Pärt dedicated the performances of his works to the murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya and other dissidents in Russia. Arvo Pärt's courageously beautiful music creates depth in every sense.


St Jacobs Chamber Choir conducted by Gary Graden

Ceremony & Banquet

May 23rd 2023 was an amazing evening in Vinterträdgården at Grand Hotel in Stockholm.

Arvo Pärt was represented by his son Michael Pärt who received the prize from the hands of HM King Carl XVI Gustaf. Swedish musicians Claudia Bonfiglioli and Karin Haglund performed "Spiegel Im Spiegel" at the ceremony.

In his thank you speech Michael Pärt said: “My father's music is a reminder of our common humanity, of the things that unite us rather than divide us. It is a call to love, to empathy, and to understanding.”

2023's Laureates: Michael Pärt representing his father Arvo Pärt, Angélique Kidjo and Chris Blackwell

Michael Pärt giving the thank you speech.

Claudia Bonfiglioli and Karin Haglund at the Ceremony

The following banquet featured several musical performances in honor of the Laureates. St Jacobs Kammarkör conducted by Gary Graden sang ”The Deer’s Cry” from 2007. Other performing artists were Benjamin Ingrosso, Daniela Rathana, Deportees and Anna Ternheim.

More photos and clips from the evening on Flickr and Youtube.

Michael Pärt with his wife Gunhildur Geirsdottir on the black carpet.

The Laureates, the Royal family and Yusuf Islam after the Ceremony.
The Arvo Pärt Centre near Tallinn (Source: Photo by Tonu Tunnel © The Arvo Pärt Centre)


Arvo Pärt was born on 11 September 1935 in Paide, Estonia, about 90 km South of capital Tallinn. He then moved to Rakvere with his mother and as a child he studied piano at Rakvere Music School.

Pärt pursued musical studies from 1954 at the Tallinn Music School. Less than a year later he temporarily had to abandon them to fulfill military service, playing oboe and percussion in the army band.

In 1963, Arvo Pärt graduated from Heino Eller’s composition class at the Tallinn State Conservatory, in parallell with a job as a recording engineer at the Estonian Radio.

Estonian composer Heino Eller on a Soviet stamp from 1987 (Source: Wikipedia/Public domain)

Tallinn State Conservatory (Source: Wikipedia)

Early works

Arvo Pärt wrote several film scores and other works in the 60s, including children’s music and Neo-classicist works, a musical movement in the 20th century represented among others by Erik Satie and Igor Stravinsky.

Among these are two Sonatinas for piano, from 1958, Nekrolog, a serial work for orchestra, from 1960, and Perpetuum mobile from 1963 which is considered as his breakthrough.

Perpetuum Mobile, OP. 10

Nekrolog Op. 5

Musical evolution

As one of the most radical representatives of the Soviet avant-garde in the 1960s, Pärt’s work passed through a profound evolutionary process: from neo-classical piano music to his unique use of dodecaphony, sonorism, chance music, and the collage technique. He experimented with the twelve-tone technique, serial music and collage. Sources of inspiration were Schönberg, Prokofjev and Bartók, same inspirations as fellow Polar Music Prize Laureates Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Serial composers

Arnold Schoenberg, developer of the twelve-tone technique starting 1923 and onwards. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The religious theme

Religion was already a recurrent theme in these early works, which the Soviet regime did not take kindly to. Neither the twelve tone technique was completely accepted, as it was seen as an influence from West.

As an official confession of faith to Christianism was not accepted by the regime, the last and most dramatic collage piece Credo (1968) was hushed up, despite the success after its first performance in November 1968 in Tallinn, and later on banned.


Creative crisis

After the controversies with Credo, Pärt withdrew for almost 8 years, converting fully in 1972 to the Christian Orthodox Church and at the same time experiencing a creative crisis.

He went back to study the roots of western music, such as Gregorian chants and polyphonic music. Arvo Pärt's works since then have mostly been based on liturgical texts and prayers including Passio (1982), Te Deum (1985), Miserere (1989/92), Kanon pokajanen (1997) and Adam’s Lament (2010), to name only a few.

The Introit (part of the opening of the liturgical celebration of the Christian Eucharist), "Gaudeamus omnes", scripted in square notation in the 14th–15th century. (Source: Wikipedia)

"A weaving-together of melodic lines in which one voice outlines a chord while the other circles around it."

– The New York Times on the tintinnabulli technique


In 1976 Arvo Pärt re-emerged with a new and highly original musical language, which he called tintinnabuli. This technique has defined his work ever since.

The name comes from the Latin word for ”little bell” – tintinnabulum.

Für Alina was the first work composed with the tintinnabulli technique officially presented.

In October 1976, the Hortus Musicus ensemble of early music, conducted by Andres Mustonen, performed Pärt’s works composed in the new style, such as Pari intervallo, In spe, Für Alina and more.

In 1977–1978, several of the tintinnabula works premiered in Tallinn, among others Tabula Rasa that paved the way for this new compositional technique outside of Estonia.

At the the first festival of early and contemporary music in Tallinn in 1978, Arvo Pärt met his future publisher Alfred Scheele from Vienna and Universal Edition.

Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten by the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, conductor Terje Tønnesen.

"It’s not the tune that matters so much here, it’s the combination with this triad, it makes such a heartrending union. The soul yearns to sing it endlessly.

Arvo Pärt on Für Alina, 1976


After being considered a dissident by the Soviet regime and excluded from the Estonian SSR Composers' Union in 1979 after a speech at the Union’s congress, Arvo Pärt was forced to leave the country with his family. He settled down in Vienna in 1980 and at the same time performances of his works in concert halls and on radio were officially banned back in Estonia.

Tabula Rasa, 1984

The early 1980s marked the beginning of his creative collaboration with the publisher Universal Edition in Vienna, as well as with the distinguished CD label ECM Records and the producer Manfred Eicher a bit later on. This collaboration would give even wider global recognition for Pärt's music.

In 1981 he was awarded a grant from German Academic Exchange Service and moved to Berlin. The first ECM recording of Tabula rasa was released in 1984. On Fratres, the pianist is fellow Polar Music Prize Laureate Keith Jarrett.

Manfred Eicher on Arvo Pärt's "Tabula Rasa", ECM Podcast Vol. 1.

Choral works

After the tintinnabuli composition technique, Arvo Pärt’s other most distinguishing character is a preference for vocal music in his later years. Pärt’s oeuvre is rich and versatile, including many large-scale compositions for choir and orchestra, numerous choral pieces and chamber music.

In the 1980s and 1990s Arvo Pärt wrote a number of choral religious works, including the St. John Passion (1982), Magnificat (1989), The Beatitudes (1990), and Litany (1994).

Magnificat – Davide Lorenzato conducts Vocalensemble AllaBreve. (Source: YouTube/Südtirol in concert.)

"Da pacem Domine" – Theatre of Voices, YXUS Ensemble, conductor Paul Hillier, at the Arvo Pärt Centre. (Source: Youtube/The Arvo Pärt Centre)

Awards & decorations

Albums with Arvo Pärt’s music have won Grammy Awards for best choral performance twice: in 2007 for Da Pacem and in 2014 for Adam’s Lament.

He has been awarded honorary doctorates by 13 universities in Europe and in the US and has received many prominent awards and decorations: the Léonie Sonning Music Prize (2008), Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honour in France (2011), the Praemium Imperiale (2014), the Ratzinger Prize from the Vatican (2017), the Frontiers of Knowledge Award, the BBVA Foundation Award (2020) and many others.

Arvo Pärt received the French decoration Légion d'honneur in 2011 from the Minister of Culture Frédéric Mitterrand. (Source: Wikimedia Commons / Estonian Foreign Ministry)

Grammy awarded "Adam's Lament"

The Arvo Pärt Centre near Tallinn. (Source: Photo by Tonu Tunnel © The Arvo Pärt Centre)

Back in Estonia

Around the time of Estonia’s restoration of independence in 1991, Pärt reconnected with his homeland and its musical life. He has lived permanently in Estonia since 2010.

In 2006 he declared in response to the murder of the Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya that all of his works performed in 2006 and 2007 would be in honour of her death.

Anna Politkovskaya, 2005 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Arvo Pärt Centre

The Arvo Pärt Centre, which holds Pärt’s personal archive, was established in Laulasmaa, near Tallinn, by the composer’s family in 2010. The centre combines the Pärt's personal archive with events, concerts and possibilities for research and musical meetings.

The centre's auditorium (Source: Photo by Tonu Tunnel © Arvo Pärt centre)

In the Arvo Pärt Centre's first house, 2014 (Source: Photo by Birgit Püwe, © Arvo Pärt Centre)
Arvo Pärt - Even if I lose everything, documentary from 2015 (Source: Youtube/Arvo Pärt Centre)

Header photo by Kaupo Kikkas
Pictures from ceremony and banquet in Stockholm by Annika Berglund, © Polar Music Prize.
This article was written in March and May 2023.
Sources: Arvo Pärt Centre,, Wikipedia

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