There are not many composers in the classical music of 20th and 21st century who have their own unique compositional technique or an instantly recognisable sound, and a vast audience at the same time.
Arvo Pärt invented his personal musical language in 1976 after discarding all modernist tools and studing early polyphony and Gregorian chant for many years. He named it tintinnabuli – from Latin tintinnabulum meaning ’little bell’. The new style first appears in a short piece for piano, Für Alina (1976), followed soon by masterpieces like Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten (1977), Fratres (1977), Tabula rasa (1977) and Spiegel im Spiegel (1978). Pärt has now been composing in his tintinnabuli-style for more than 40 years, and it has proven to be a rich and inexhaustible creative source for him.
Tintinnabuli music can be defined as a distinct technique, which in essence unites two monodic lines of structure – melody and triad – into one, inseparable ensemble. It creates an original duality of voices, the course and inner logic of which are defined by strict, even complicated mathematical formulas. Through that duality of voices Pärt has given a new meaning to the horizontal and vertical axis of music, and broadened our perception of tonal and modal music in its widest sense.
Tintinnabuli music can also be described as a style in which the musical material is extremely concentrated, reduced only to the most important, where the simple rhythm and often gradually progressing melodies and triadic, so-called tintinnabuli voices are integrated into the complicated art of polyphony, expressing the composer’s special relationship to silence.
In addition, tintinnabuli is also an ideology, a very personal and deeply sensed attitude to life for the composer, based on Christian values, religious practice and a quest for truth, beauty and purity.
There is no compositional school that follows Pärt, nor does he teach, although his music or so-called „Pärt sound“ is widely imitated. Nevertheless, a large part of the music of the second half of the 20th century has been strongly influenced Pärt’s tintinnabuli compositions.