In memoriam Christopher Jonathan May (June 7, 1984 – August 3, 2023)


It is with deep sadness that we share the news that Chris May, a young musicologist and brilliant Pärt researcher, has passed away after a serious illness.

Chris was closely involved with the Arvo Pärt Centre throughout his career as a researcher, being one of the first musicologists to start working more seriously with the archive in Laulasmaa in 2014. His studies at the University of Oxford brought him as a visiting student to the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, where he wrote his thesis under the co-supervision of Prof. Toomas Siitan. During this period, he frequently used the Centre’s archive, contributing greatly to the development of the newly founded archive with his fresh perspective, in-depth research and insightful questions, and bringing to light a wide range of materials (e.g. film music sketches and manuscripts) that researchers had not dealt with systematically until then. In 2016, he defended his thesis “System, gesture, rhetoric: contexts for rethinking tintinnabuli in the music of Arvo Pärt, 1960-1990” at the University of Oxford, in which he thoroughly analysed the most important Pärt studies, trying to reconcile theoretical and experiential approaches to tintinnabuli. Through his research and published articles, Chris May has made a significant contribution to Pärt studies, broadening the range of topics explored and bringing new perspectives to the discussion.

Through Arvo Pärt’s work, Chris also came to know and love Estonia and its cultural life, holding this place very dear in his heart; he had good colleagues and friends here. In 2018, he didn’t think it too much to travel from his hometown of Sydney to Tartu for a few days to give a presentation on Pärt’s work at a conference of the Estonian Musicological Society. In 2021, he gave a memorable presentation at the Arvo Pärt Centre’s first research conference, this time online, as he was unable to attend due to a pandemic. This was to be Chris’ last public appearance — his article on Litany, on which he was still working in the last weeks of his life, is awaiting publication.

Chris May will be remembered as a unique and inspiring music thinker and writer. We will miss his friendship, his open mind and his great sense of humour.


Our deepest condolences to Chris’ parents, his wife and his newborn daughter.

Arvo and Nora Pärt and the whole family of the Centre

Toomas Siitan and the Estonian Musicological Society



Join our newsletter