Riho Päts

Composer and choral conductor Riho Päts is known above all as pedagogue who teached in different schools almost half a century – he is a founder and developer of Estonian music education in the schools. Following the example of Vilho Siukonen’s (Finland), Zoltán Kodály’s (Hungary) and Carl Orff’s (Germany) methods and schoolbooks, he used relative solmisation to teach children to read music, which was Päts’s primary goal.

Päts’s major large-scale works are symphonic fairy-tale suite The Subterraneans, children’s opera Clever-Ants and Old Nick and musical comedy Our Village Boys, but vocal music form the most significant part of his output. He has composed choral songs for different choir types, solo songs and a large amount of children’s songs (including arrangements of folk songs). Quite often these songs are accompanied by different percussion instruments and recorders to make school music lessons more attractive. Being the promoter of school music Päts attached great importance to find age-appropriate repertoire for children. Therefore he has compiled and edited several music schoolbooks for general education school and also study books for piano. 

Riho Päts studied piano with cantor M. Bruus, music theory with Mart Saar (1915) and piano and organ at Griwing music school (1916). In 1920–1921, Päts studied piano with Adele Brosse at Tartu Higher Music School and continued in 1923 at Tallinn Conservatory, graduating from Artur Kapp’s composition class in 1926 and in piano under the spervision of Artur Lemba in 1927.

Päts worked as a music teacher in Haapsalu (1921–1923) and different schools in Tallinn, including Tallinn State Conservatory (1940–1941, 1944–1950, rector in 1940–1941). In 1950, Päts was illegally arrested and sent to forced-labor camps in Estonia and Siberia. He was released in 1955 and his rights were re-established in 1968. In 1956–1971, Päts continued teaching at Tallinn Pedagogical University (head of the singing and music department), where his main subjects were methodology of music teaching and pedagogical practice advising. Additionally, he organized continuing education courses for music teachers.

Riho Päts conducted school choirs and was the general director of children’s choirs in several song celebrations. He also gave lectures, published monographies (e.g. Artur Kapp and Rudolf Tobias), articles, music criticism and wrote overviews of music life in abroad. Päts was the Editor-in-Chief of music magazine Muusikaleht (1930–1931) and was co-worker in music magazines Musical Courier (New York) and Musical Times (London). In 1920’s–1930’s Päts was one of the foreign new music experts in Estonia due to his several trips to Western Europe. Additionally, he was the chairman of Estonian Authors’ Society (1934).

Riho Päts was awarded the 4th Class Order of the Estonian Red Cross (1939), Estonian SSR Honoured Worker in Arts (1947) and Estonian SSR State Prize (1948). In 2002, Tallinn University founded The Riho Päts Fund of School Music to celebrate the memory of Riho Päts. Annually it gives out up to five scholarships to individuals (music teachers, instrument teachers, composers, researchers of musical pedagogy and developers of school music) who have made significant contributions in their musical activities with children, youth and teachers. In 2006, academic unit Riho Päts Centre was establised to support the research and development of music and education at Tallinn University Institute of Fine Arts.

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