English Abstract

This article is based on a presentation given at the first Estonian-Finnish Music Library Seminar held 26–27 May 2016 in Helsinki. It provides an overview of the foundation of the Arvo Pärt Centre, its development, collections, classification system, archival activities and future plans. The special feature of the personal archive is that its content—its core—opens, grows and reaches its eventual form and scale in a process that is closely related to the current activities of Arvo Pärt, which also requires the Centre archivists to be creatively active and flexible in solving the tasks of the archive. The article describes the activities and challenges related to the construction of an archive of a living composer.

French Abstract

Cet article se base sur une communication donnée lors du premier séminaire finno-estonien sur les bibliothèques musicales, qui s'est tenu les 26 et 27 mai 2016 à Helsinki. Il propose une vue d'ensemble de la fondation du Centre Arvo Pärt, son développement, ses collections, son plan de classement, le fontionnement de ses archives et ses projets pour l'avenir. Le fait que les activités actuelles du compositeur Arvo Pärt soient en rapport direct avec le coeur des archives personnelles du Centre, constitue sa particularité: ces documents sont ouverts et évoluent afin d'atteindre la forme actuelle. Ceci nécessite que les archivistes du Centre fassent preuve de créativité et de flexibilité afin de résoudre les tâches liées aux problématiques des archives. L'article expose les activités et le challenge liés à l'élaboration de l'archive d'un compositeur actuel.

German Abstract

Dieser Beitrag geht auf eine Präsentation zurück, die auf dem ersten estnisch-finnischen Musikbibliotheksseminar vorgestellt wurde, das am 26. und 27. Mai 2016 in Helsinki stattfand. Er bietet einen Überblick über die Gründung des Arvo-Pärt-Zentrums, dessen Entwicklung, Sammlungen, Klassifikationssystem, Archivierungspläne und seine Zukunftspläne. Die Besonderheit dieses personenbezogenen Archivs ist die, dass sein Bestand – das Herzstück – sich öffnet, wächst und den endgültigen Zuschnitt sowie die Zielgröße in einem eng mit den derzeitigen Aktivitäten Arvo Pärts verbundenen Prozess erhält. Dieser Umstand erfordert von den Archivaren des Zentrums kreatives Vorgehen und Flexibilität bei der Lösung der Sammlungsaufgaben. Der Artikel beschreibt die Aktivitäten und Herausforderungen im Zusammenhang mit der Einrichtung des Archivs eines lebenden Komponisten.

Is the archive of a living person somehow different from other archives? Probably not, as far as the structure of the archive and archiving principles are concerned. Neither can a personal archive be completely similar to another. The originality and uniqueness of every archive stems from the material stored in it, and the archive will develop and grow to resemble the person whose treasures the archive is meant to keep safe.

The special feature of this personal archive is that its content—its core—opens, grows, and reaches its eventual form and scale in a process that is closely related to the current activities of Arvo Pärt, considering the activeness of the composer, how often his works are performed, and the effect of his music on the world. Arvo Pärt's direct involvement influences the work of the archive. It has the opportunity to obtain thorough explanations from the composer on various archival documents, which is an invaluable resource for researchers. However, processing the material can be trying, as the composer continues to use a large part of the archived documents. Arvo Pärt is creatively active, composing new, correcting existing, and rearranging earlier works for new groups—this requires the Centre to be creatively active and extremely flexible in solving the tasks of the archive.

The Beginning of the Arvo Pärt Centre, and the Development of the Archive

After thirty years living abroad in Vienna and Berlin, Arvo Pärt decided to return to Estonia with his family1 and to establish an archive there. Although the Berliner Akademie der Künste had expressed interest in hosting the family archive, the composer decided to bring the collection to Estonia, as he wished to be close to his materials, to be able to use them constantly, and to comment on them in his native language. This would not have been possible if the archive had stayed in Germany.

The Arvo Pärt Centre, established in 2010 in Laulasmaa, is thirty-five kilometres from Tallinn. Laulasmaa is significant for Pärt—emotionally, culturally, and historically—because it was and is a summer holiday destination for many composers, writers, and artists. However, two people very important to Pärt have lived in this region. Ten kilometres from Laulasmaa, at Treppoja, there is the holiday home of Ille Martin, Pärt's piano [End Page 152] teacher from the Rakvere Music School, whom the young Pärt visited during many summers. The summerhouse of Pärt's composition teacher, the composer Heino Eller (1887–1970), was also located in Laulasmaa. Arvo Pärt visited his teacher often, even after he graduated from the conservatory. He considers the walks and conversations with Eller, which took place along the beach and in the forests of Laulasmaa, to be an important part of his life2.

The majority of the Centre's archival materials are original documents from Arvo Pärt's family. The oldest document in the archive dates back to 1899, a photo postcard of the composer's great-grandfather. One of the most valuable parts of the archive are documents related to the composer's creative work, dating back to the 1970s when Arvo Pärt started saving his sketch books or musical diaries. In addition, materials from the earlier period mostly include only photographs and some audio tapes—mainly comprised of the material that the family was able to fit into suitcases and take with them when they emigrated from Estonia. The bulk of the family archival documents started to accumulate from 1980 onwards, after emigrating to the West. That material already contains many different types of documents, including handwritten sketches and original scores, as well as correspondence, materials related to travelling and performances, and much more.

The goal of the Centre is to acquire as complete a collection as possible of materials related to Arvo Pärt and his oeuvre. It is possible to achieve this goal through active collaboration with other like institutions. The Centre started searching for materials in the archives and museums located in Estonia, because much of the early materials, dating from before his emigration, have ended up in the collections of various institutions. For example, Pärt does not have his original scores from the 1960s and 1970s, as the prevailing system in the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic (ESSR) was for the state government to purchase the original scores, with composers left only with copies made by copyists. The originals of these scores are currently located at the Estonian Theatre and Music Museum, which has enabled us to make digital copies of these scores for the archive. The Centre has also digitised materials that are located in the National Archives of Estonia, the Estonian Film Archives, the Estonian Literary Museum, and the Estonian Public Broadcasting Archives. Before departing from Estonia, the composer asked friends and family to look after certain items for him or gave them away as gifts. The Centre still has the task to call for donations or loans of materials that used to belong to Arvo Pärt, and which should be digitised, as they are valuable for the archive.

The Collections of the Archive

When compared to other Estonian personal archives, Arvo Pärt's family archive is rather substantial, and contains a lot of different types of documents: personal documents related to the life and work of Arvo Pärt, calendars, scores, musical diaries, sketches, musical dedications written to friends and colleagues, programmes, posters, and interviews with the composer and interpreters of his music. The archive also includes media coverage of concerts, news stories, reviews, and essays from newspapers and magazines. The collection has tens of thousands of photographs, related to Pärt's private, as well as public, life. The photographs are available as negatives, positives, and as digital files, with more added almost every day. [End Page 153]

Fig. 1. Compositional outline of Te Deum (1984).
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Fig. 1.

Compositional outline of Te Deum (1984).

The archive includes scholarly works and books, but also their rough drafts, together with notes by the composer or his wife, Nora Pärt. These notes have ended up in the archive as researchers have asked for advice, and have requested the family to read their research before completion. The amount of correspondence is extensive: in addition to personal correspondence, there is that related to creating compositions, organising festivals, and recordings, but also letters from fans, cards, and invitations. The Centre also has a separate collection for rejection letters for commissioned works. Currently, Pärt has been awarded ninety different honorary awards or titles; and the composer has given the relevant documents and objects to the archive. The collection also includes the composer's personal library, furniture, gifts, and works dedicated to him.

The archive includes films, radio, and television programmes about the composer; films with music composed by Arvo Pärt, and recordings where his concert music has been used—ballet performances, feature films and documentaries, and others. Furthermore, the collection includes published recordings of Arvo Pärt's music: CDs, DVDs, LPs. The audio and video recordings in the archive are digital or in various formats—magnetic tape of different dimensions and dating back to different times, film tape, VHS, DAT, mini-disc, CD, DVD, and many more. Naturally, the family could not before, and the Centre cannot now compete with large audio-visual institutions and their carefully curated collections of recordings and programmes. However, the Centre does have many very interesting private recordings of rehearsals, concerts, and interviews. The composer's family members, interpreters, researchers, or journalists have made the recordings.

The most valuable items in the archive are, of course, the handwritten scores, sketches, schemes, and musical diaries.

Currently, more than 600 documents like these have been collected, but naturally, not all of the scores, sketches, and musical diaries have reached the Centre, as the composer is still working. From the archivists' perspective, it is a challenge when during his creative [End Page 154] process, the composer changes scores that have been digitised and registered, or withdraws pieces and versions from his list of works. Therefore, the scores in the archive also include printed scores with handwritten corrections. Organising these and placing them in chronological order would be time-consuming and difficult, without the opportunity to ask for help from Arvo or Nora Pärt. Fortunately, for the archivist and future researchers, Pärt creates music with pencil and paper, not digitally in a computer programme. Thanks to that, it is possible to follow the creation of a composition from the initial idea to the final printed score.

Fig. 2. Selections from Juta Kurman's Collection of 130 articles (1980–2006).
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Fig. 2.

Selections from Juta Kurman's Collection of 130 articles (1980–2006).

Only a very small part of the composer's entire archive has been processed and recorded, so the Centre is only at the beginning of a long process. Over the last three and a half years, more than 6,900 items have been recorded.

In 2016, the first private collections were donated to the archive. These include a collection of documents relating to Arvo Pärt, once belonging to Juta Kurman, an active member of the Estonian Music Centre in the US, and a music critic for the newspaper Vaba Eesti Sõna (130 articles from expatriate Estonian and American newspapers from the years 1980–2006, four of these written by Kurman herself); an image collection from Eric Marinitsch, a representative of the publishing company Universal Edition, with photographs taken over the course of twenty years accompanying Arvo Pärt at concerts (6,924 items of video and photography from 1997 to the present). [End Page 155]

The Management System at the Archive

As stated above, the main part of the document collection began to accumulate beginning in 1980. The reason behind this was rather ordinary—while in the Soviet Union, the organisational aspects of recording, publishing, and travelling was managed through the Union of Soviet Composers; once emigrated, the composer was able to start communicating directly with publishers, record labels, performers, and concert organisers. Nora Pärt can be considered Arvo Pärt's first archivist, as for the past thirty years, she took care of the huge volume of documents. Thanks to her work, the Centre archivists did not have to start by processing the material in detail, but were able to implement the classification system Nora Pärt developed, supplementing it only with minor contemporary archiving requirements. Testing various classification options over the years, the composer's wife reached a solution where some of the series have been classified based on document type (e.g., scores, sketches, correspondence, reviews, and news items). However, most of the series are defined by function, and contain different document types, such as festival folders containing organisational correspondence, programmes, photographs, concert recordings, interviews, and much more.

Currently, the Arvo Pärt Centre uses the following classification system for organising material:

  1. 1. Biography

  2. 2. Works

  3. 3. Composer's comments and quotations

  4. 4. The creation of the works and recording materials

  5. 5. Performance materials

  6. 6. Correspondence

  7. 7. Writings about Arvo Pärt's life and work

  8. 8. Photographs

  9. 9. Audio and video material

  10. 10. Honorary degrees and awards

  11. 11. Other items of archival value

The Modern Digital Era

The goal of the Centre is to digitise all of the material in the archive, and to store it in permanent formats. This would help us save items that are currently in analogue formats from wear and tear, while also making them usable, as the older audio and video formats can no longer be listened to or watched, because the playback equipment has changed. Besides, in particular, the fifty-year-old, but also the forty-year-old scores have started to fade, or their colours have started to change. It is possible that the paper and pencils used at the time were of poor quality, or in "conflict" with each other; in other words, the chemical composition of the paper was not suited to that of the pencil, and the text has started to fade (see fig 3). This is why the digitisation of these documents has been extremely necessary, with some manuscripts even needing physical restoration beforehand due to their very poor condition.

Collecting new online information is quite a challenge on its own. As Pärt is the world's most performed living composer, there is a performance somewhere every day, or a news item, or media coverage published, but much of this information is online, and does not remain [End Page 156]

Fig. 3. First page from the manuscript of Perpetuum mobile (1963).
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Fig. 3.

First page from the manuscript of Perpetuum mobile (1963).

there for long. That is why the time factor is significant for "catching" the material on the Internet. A small proportion of the contemporary material has been received through correspondence or by chance, not through systematic searching. However, specific Internet searches are carried out at least twice a week, with the help of Google's search engines. Our collection includes the same wide range of documents collected earlier by the composer himself, yet the amount of items available is now considerably larger due to the widespread and easy access of information online. These items include concert programmes, which include works by Pärt, concert introductions, news and coverage from [End Page 157] the Web sites of newspapers as well as TV and radio channels, broadcast recordings about Arvo Pärt, recordings of the performances of his works, and others. These are complemented by various video materials of dance performances and films in which Arvo Pärt's music is featured, as well as works from different fields of art inspired by Pärt's music and dedicated to the composer. All findings are stored in a format that enables permanent archiving, added to the archive as analogue data carriers, and stored in the digital archive.

The Information System at the Archive

The custom-built database, APIS (Arvo Pärt Information System)3, was developed for managing all of the data. With this information system, it must be possible to manage the archival materials correctly, as well as make it possible for all interested parties to find metadata through works or archival documents.

The underlying structure of APIS is the lists of compositions and documents, because the works are the impetus for creating new documents, and all entries to the information system are made based on these documents. Another very important function is linking between different groups of entries. Archive management programs currently used in Estonia mainly include lists of archived documents. APIS also includes more-detailed information extracted from the content of the archived document, but items are categorised into different lists according to their themes: musical works, recordings, performances, coverages, etc. Links between different groups of entries within the information system make it possible to move from musical works and documents to information on performances, recordings, and media coverage. Furthermore, it is possible to search for documents or entries based on personal names—the name of every author, conductor, performer, etc., entered into APIS will show all of the entries related to that name.

The possibility to create links makes APIS a large and complex information system, making it different from databases that display as lists. For the archivist, this means that in addition to the usual or required metadata—time, name, indicator, etc.—more information has to be entered with the document and in other lists, as well as creating links between different entries and documents. In this way, the information system will be able to provide options that are more versatile for users seeking and using the information.

The public information entered in the system—the short overviews of the compositions, metadata on performances, recordings, and media coverage—will be visible on the Web site. However, viewing the physical as well as digital documents will only be possible at the Centre, due to intellectual property rights, right of ownership, and the protection of personal data.

Archival Activities in Collaboration with the Composer

In addition to the usual archiving work—systematisation, digitisation, and description of existing materials, the Centre also engages in activities resulting in more archival [End Page 158] materials. It has a special opportunity to work with the composer, to interview him and ask for his comments. This work is highly time-sensitive, which is why the Centre has set it as a priority among all the archive's operations. Even though it has not systematised and archived all the material—it is not an easy task to find the materials required for its preparation—this work cannot be postponed.

Creative chronologies

One of our objectives is to collect background information on all musical compositions, with an in-depth perspective on the creative origins and musical structure of each piece. The result will be a description of the creative process for each composition by Arvo Pärt, including an explanation of the impulse for creating the work, the origin of the idea and the commission, information on the text on which the composition is based, or the texts that the composer was influenced by at the time, information on the première performance, new versions, and so on. Based on archival materials (such as letters, sketches, musical diaries, manuscripts, scores, etc.), the creative process of the compositions and different versions is reconstructed. All the archival materials are reviewed with the composer for the reconstruction. During these discussions, the composer explains the compositional process for the work as well as providing an in-depth look at his approach to the musical material. These invaluable interviews are audio and video recorded, the recordings are transcribed and, if necessary supplied with comments. Based on these discussions and archival materials, a summary description is also prepared for the archive's database. This is naturally a very time-consuming task, and the work is only just beginning. This material will definitely be among the most valuable of the sources for further research on the musical compositions of Arvo Pärt.

Comments to musical diaries

Another major task concerns the musical diaries of Arvo Pärt. Since 1974, the musical diaries are sheet music notebooks in which the composer has written down his creative ideas in the form of musical sketches, as well as his thoughts, quotes from books, and comments on daily affairs. As such, the diaries are a chronicle of the composer's creative and intellectual life. Arvo Pärt has dated his notebooks carefully so that one can trace the first ideas for his musical compositions, the books he was reading, and the thoughts he had at the time. Currently, the newest diaries in the archive are from 2006, but he is still keeping diaries to this day. Pärt's method of expression is very original, aphoristic, and extremely concentrated. When it comes to diaries, it is natural for the author to think that these are not going to be read by anyone. If not for Pärt's comments, many of the entries would be incomprehensible and non-decipherable to future readers. The task of supplying all the musical diaries with the composer's comments started with the establishment of the Centre. Each diary is gone through, page by page, with Arvo Pärt, and his comments recorded and transcribed. This work started with the earliest diaries and now, six years later, has reached the beginning of the 2000s. This material is also of great help in the preparation of creative chronologies.

Collecting comments on the musical diaries, and having conversations with the composer regarding every composition separately, is one of the more systematic undertakings with the composer regarding archival work. The help and knowledge of Arvo and Nora Pärt is constantly sought out for the systematisation of other materials, as well. In addition to managing and sequencing the above-mentioned scores with corrections, questions also [End Page 159] arise consistently regarding the dating and description of photographs, correspondence, managing documents, and quotes related to performances, and also in other series. The memories and recollections of Arvo and Nora Pärt are invaluable, and help to fill the gaps that the archival materials cannot provide answers for.

Fig. 4. Cover of a musical diary from 1991.
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Fig. 4.

Cover of a musical diary from 1991.

Public Activities

Although currently focused on building the archive, the Centre has also tried to offer the public a glimpse of the materials it houses. The fruits of this labor are two publications: In Principio: The Word in Arvo Pärt's Music, the Centre's first book published in 2014, is a collection of texts on which Arvo Pärt has based his musical compositions4. It includes English translations and forewords by musicologist and Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre professor, Toomas Siitan, and the editors, basic information on the completion of the compositions and their premiere, and illustrated with handwritten archival material in the form of sketches, manuscripts, and musical diaries. In addition to vocal music, many [End Page 160] instrumental compositions by Pärt are based on texts. These include instrumental versions of works initially composed for a vocal ensemble or a choir (for example Summa, Da pacem Domine, and Swansong, among others); instrumental works where the composer has taken the structure of a specific text as the starting point for his composition, although the text itself is never heard in the work (such as Silouan's Song, Orient & Occident, Lamentate, and Symphony No. 4, among others), as well as works where text has been added as a motto or dedication (such as Pari intervallo, An den Wassern..., Mein Weg / Mein Weg hat Gipfel..., etc.). For some compositions, audiences did not know a text existed, and so with this book such texts have been presented for the first time.

Fig. 5. Cover of In Principio: The Word in Arvo Pärt's Music.
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Fig. 5.

Cover of In Principio: The Word in Arvo Pärt's Music.

Our second publication, released with the Estonian Public Broadcasting and the Children's Music Studio of Estonian Radio in autumn 2015, is the CD with musical notations Songs from Childhood. The album is a selection of children's songs by Arvo Pärt, [End Page 161] most of them written between 1956 and 1970 for plays and cartoons. Many of the songs were never released. The album booklet contains information on the songs that has not been studied or published in summary before.

Playing Pärt, a double DVD released in 2012 in cooperation with the Old Town Music House and Old Town Music School in Tallinn, and Minor Film is a valuable educational resource, as well as being new archival material. One DVD contains a concert of compositions by Arvo Pärt performed by the Music School students, and the other is a video of their rehearsals tutored by the composer. In collaboration with the record label ERP, the Centre has also published a recording of the composition Vater unser.

In February 2017, the Centre published a collection of articles and papers by the Austrian musicologist, Leopold Brauneiss, one of the most renowned scholars of Pärt's music. This collection includes Brauneiss's most significant analytical articles on Pärt's music, not previously published in Estonian5. These articles, not published as a collection in any other language, is one of the most comprehensive anthologies of articles specialising in the tintinnabuli technique. Edited by Toomas Siitan and Kai Kutman, Saale Kareda compiled the collection, and translated the texts into Estonian.

In addition to publishing, continuing relationships have been established with other organisations. The Centre is a member of the Estonian Music Information Centre, the Estonian Music Council, and recently became a member of the Estonian Music Library Association. It communicates daily with Arvo Pärt's publishing company, Universal Edition in Vienna; and collaborates with the Estonian Theatre and Music Museum, the Estonian Public Broadcasting, the Estonian National Archives, the Estonian National Library, the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, the University of Tartu, and St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in the US. In addition, it has exchanged experiences with the Britten-Pears Foundation (UK), the Arnold Schönberg Center (Vienna), the Orff-Zentrum München (Germany), and the Estonian National Museum. As a young institution, the experiences of well-established archives and centres are very valuable to our work.

Our work at the Arvo Pärt Centre so far has shown that there is great interest in the work of Arvo Pärt. The Centre receives inquiries from researchers, performers, and concert organisations every day. We try to answer all of them, in time. Although the Centre is officially closed and does not have an actual exhibition to see, it occasionally receives visitors by prior agreement and offers them a tour. For example, approximately 400 people visited the Centre in 2015, Arvo Pärt's jubilee year. This year, the Centre participated in the Museum Night event for the first time and opened its doors to the public for one night—visitors were able to listen to concerts and poetry, and have a tour of the Centre. The Museum Night has spread all over the world, and it has become increasingly popular in Estonia in recent years.

In order to reach more people, the Centre has, for the last six years, organised film evenings in Tallinn, screening films that have used Arvo Pärt's music. It has invited the film directors to introduce and explain the background of their films, and the reasons for choosing such scores. [End Page 162]

Currently, the Arvo Pärt Centre operates in two small buildings, neither of which initially designed for the archive or for the visitor centre. In 2018, it is planning to open a new building, which will have compliant depositories, a library with work stations for researchers, an exhibition area, a video room, a classroom and an auditorium for organising concerts, conferences, seminars, and educational programmes; here there will be an opportunity to screen films and to make recordings. The Centre, being a memory institution and an information centre will be the focal point of several activities related to the works of Arvo Pärt, but predominantly a research and study environment, with the archive at its core. [End Page 163]

Anneli Kivisiv

Anneli Kivisiv is archivist at the Arvo Pärt Centre since 2013. From 2008 to 2013, she was archivist at the Technical Regulatory Authority. She started to work in the archives in 2003. She holds a master's degree in education from Tallinn University and since 2016 a level 7 archivist professional certificate.

Kai Kutman

Kai Kutman is editor and musicologist at the Arvo Pärt Centre since 2011. She is also publications manager of the Nargenfestival. Previously, she was publications manager at the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, editor at the State Concert Institute Eesti Kontsert, and the music journal Muusika. Kai has also lectured on music history at Tallinn Music High School. She holds a master's degree in musicology from the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre and has studied language editing in a master's degree programme at Tallinn University.


1. Born in Estonia in 1935, the composer emigrated from the Soviet Union to Vienna, Austria, with his family in 1980. In 1981, the family moved to Berlin, which was their home for nearly thirty years.

2. Arvo Pärt has talked about his connection with Laulasmaa in the documentary Helide maa (Estfilm, 2016).

3. APIS (Arvo Pärt Information System) is built on the LAMP platform. Web queries are handled by the Apache Web server. Code is written in PHP and the system runs the latest version, PHP 7. About 85 percent of the code is custom made and 15 percent uses the Forte. CMS platform. View logic, separated from the code and the Smarty template engine, is used to connect the views and the code together. A MYSQL database is used to store all the information and also handles all the system searches. In the future as data grows, searches will be handled by Elasticsearch. APIS stores only file metadata but files are physically stored in the file archive server and the system acts as a proxy between the end-user and the file archive. Descriptions of items in the archive are in compliance with the ISAD(G) standard.

4. In 2015, this book was selected as one the twenty-five most beautiful Estonian books.

5. So far, two comprehensive articles by Leopold Brauneiss have been published in Estonian, in the collection Arvo Pärt peeglis. Vestlused, esseed ja artiklid, Enzo Restagno, compiler (Tallinn: Eesti Entsüklo peediakirjastus, 2005).

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