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Prt's works are generally divided into two periods.

He composed his early works u sing a range of neo-classical styles influenced by Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Bartk. He then began to compose using Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique and seri alism. This, however, not only earned the ire of the Soviet establishment, but a lso proved to be a creative dead-end. When early works were banned by Soviet cen sors, Prt entered the first of several periods of contemplative silence, during w hich he studied choral music from the 14th to 16th centuries.[4] In this context , Prt's biographer, Paul Hillier, observed that "He had reached a position of com plete despair in which the composition of music appeared to be the most futile o f gestures, and he lacked the musical faith and willpower to write even a single note."[citation needed] The spirit of early European polyphony informed the composition of Prt's transiti onal Third Symphony (1971); thereafter he immersed himself in early music, reinv estigating the roots of Western music. He studied plainsong, Gregorian chant and the emergence of polyphony in the European Renaissance. The music that began to emerge after this period was radically different. This p eriod of new compositions included Fratres, Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten and Tabula Rasa.[4] Prt describes the music of this period as tintinnabuli like the ringing of bells. Spiegel im Spiegel (1978) is a well-known example which has b een used in many films. The music is characterised by simple harmonies, often si ngle unadorned notes, or triads, which form the basis of Western harmony. These are reminiscent of ringing bells. Tintinnabuli works are rhythmically simple and do not change tempo. Another characteristic of Prt's later works is that they ar e frequently settings for sacred texts, although he mostly chooses Latin or the Church Slavonic language used in Orthodox liturgy instead of his native Estonian language. Large-scale works inspired by religious texts include St. John Passio n, Te Deum, and Litany. Choral works from this period include Magnificat and The Beatitudes.[4] Of Prt's popularity, Steve Reich has written: "Even in Estonia, Arvo was getting the same feeling that we were all getting .... I love his music, and I love the fact that he is such a brave, talented man .... He's completely out of step with the zeitgeist and yet he's enormously popular, which is so inspiring. His music fulfills a deep human need that has nothing to do with fashion."[10] Prt's music came to public attention in the West largely thanks to Manfred Eicher who recor ded several of Prt's compositions for ECM Records starting in 1984. Invited by Walter Fink, Prt was the 15th composer featured in the annual Komponis tenportrt of the Rheingau Musik Festival in 2005 in four concerts. Chamber music included Fr Alina for piano, played by himself, Spiegel im Spiegel and Psalom for string quartet. The chamber orchestra of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra played his Trisagion, Fratres and Cantus along with works of J.S. Bach. The Wind sbach Boys Choir and soloists Sibylla Rubens, Ingeborg Danz, Markus Schfer and Kl aus Mertens performed Magnificat and Collage ber B-A-C-H together with two cantat as of Bach and one of Mendelssohn. The Hilliard Ensemble, organist Christopher B owers-Broadbent, the Rostock Motet Choir and the Hilliard instrumental ensemble, conducted by Markus Johannes Langer, performed a program of Prt's organ music an d works for voices (some a cappella), including Pari Intervallo, De profundis, a nd Miserere. A new composition, Fr Lennart, written for the memory of the Estonian President, Lennart Meri, was played at his funeral service on 2 April 2006. In response to the murder of the Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovs kaya in Moscow on 7 October 2006, Prt declared that all of his works performed in 2006 and 2007 would be in honour of her death, issuing the following statement: "Anna Politkovskaya staked her entire talent, energy and in the end even her life o n saving people who had become victims of the abuses prevailing in Russia."[11]

Arvo Prt and Nora Prt in 2012 Prt was honoured as the featured composer of the 2008 RT Living Music Festival[12] in Dublin, Ireland. He was also commissioned by Louth Contemporary Music Societ y[13] to compose a new choral work based on "St. Patrick's Breastplate", which p remiered in 2008 in Louth, Ireland. The new work is called The Deers Cry. This i s his first Irish commission, having its debut in Drogheda and Dundalk in Februa ry 2008. Prt's 2008 Symphony No. 4 is named Los Angeles and was dedicated to Mikhail Khodork ovsky. It was Prt's first symphony written since his Symphony No. 3 written in 19 71. It premiered in Los Angeles, California, at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on 10 January 2009,[14] and has been nominated for a GRAMMY for Best Classical Cont emporary Composition. On 10 December 2011, Prt was appointed a member of the Pontifical Council for Cul ture for a five-year renewable term by Pope Benedict XVI.[15]