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The many dimensions of Einojuhani Rautavaara
by Thanos Kalamidas
2010-10-09 08:48:55
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I have often said that Finland is an isolated country when it comes to art – design is another case but not the issue here - and especially when it comes to music and unfortunately one of the usual excuses is the language like the language helped Mozart or Verdi to become the phenomenon in global history they have. The music world in general has been a bit unfair to Finnish musicians and composers and for me it has never stopped being a surprise every time I hear or better I’m coming in touch with the work of another Finnish creator.

And writing that my mind goes to a series of Finnish musicians the world knows so little about - of course the experts always know but this is never enough – covering all styles of music from classic to country and gospel, never forget the unbelievable phonetic groups and jazz music. But a few minutes ago browsing the news I saw the name of a Finnish composer who celebrates today his 72nd birthday and straight away I put his piano concerto No 3 and I have to admit that the last ten minutes I got lost in the pictures and the feeling Einojuhani Rautavaara awoke from inside me.

I know that it will sound like a sacrilege – at least for the Finnish people – but from the first time I heard anything of Rautavaara, I felt more connected to his music than Sibelius music and that doesn’t mean that I ever tried to compare them; I suppose their common roots naturally makes connections I could not avoid. Having a few records with Rautavaara music I can feel his evolution through time and space and for his work I have the sense that space is something very important. In his flute concerto “flying with the winds” the instrument becomes the wind and transforms so in space and time creating new dimensions where you are the architect and the music your eyes. The piano concerto No3 – my favourite – “Gift of Dreams” and his orchestral “Autumn Gardens” is a trip where nobody dared to go before.

I’ve read it searching his bio but I knew it from his music, Einojuhani Rautavaara has been experimenting with music, has test the limits of the instruments and the chorus they produce. He has tried the limits of the audience but in a very sensitive way that makes it welcome even to the most conservative ears. His pauses and innuendoes are screams, his strings are paths inside the forest and his brasses are the human factor, the powerful human element; the element that I often miss in Sibelius for example.

Again my reference to Sibelius has to do with their common Finnish roots and that they both have been often inspired form the Finnish nature and life. But if Sibelius can picture the Finnish forest, Rautavaara takes you there. He walks with you and shows you what you would have missed alone. And you can feel that in the “Bird Gardens” and in the “Finnish Myths” but I felt it more in “Canto II & III” despite the Hispanic reference.

His work is rich and covers operas to choral compositions. I would suggest his piano concertos for anybody who wants to sense his music because with Einojuhani Rautavaara it is all about the senses and dimensions. And knowing that at the moment he’s working a project with Garcia Lorca’s work I’m looking more than forward for the result. For now from a Greek who lives in Finland and great admirer of your work, Mr. Einojuhani Rautavaara, happy birthday!

Einojuhani Rautavaara

Rautavaara was born in Helsinki in 1928 and studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki under Aarre Merikanto from 1948 to 1952 before he was recommended a scholarship to study at the Juilliard School in New York City. There he was taught by Vincent Persichetti, and he also took lessons from Roger Sessions and Aaron Copland at Tanglewood. He first came to international attention when he won the Thor Johnson Contest for his composition A Requiem in Our Time in 1954. Rautavaara served as a non-tenured teacher at the Sibelius Academy from 1957 to 1959, music archivist of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra from 1959 to 1961, rector of the Käpylä Music Institute in Helsinki from 1965 to 1966, tenured teacher at the Sibelius Academy from 1966 to 1976, artist professor (appointed by the Arts Council of Finland) from 1971 to 1976, and professor of composition at the Sibelius Academy from 1976 to 1990. Rautavaara suffered an aortic dissection in January 2004. He had to spend almost half a year in intensive care but has since recovered and managed to continue his work.

Rautavaara is a prolific composer and has written in a variety of forms and styles. He experimented with serial techniques in his early career but left them behind in the 1960s and even his serial works are not obviously serial. His third symphony, for example, uses such techniques, but sounds more like Anton Bruckner than it does a more traditional serialist such as Pierre Boulez. His later works often have a mystical element (such as in several works with titles making reference to angels). A characteristic 'Rautavaara sound' might be a rhapsodic string theme of austere beauty, with whirling flute lines, gently dissonant bells, and perhaps the suggestion of a pastoral horn.

His compositions include eight symphonies, several concertos, choral works (several for unaccompanied choir, including Vigilia (1971–1972)), sonatas for various instruments, string quartets and other chamber music, and a number of biographical operas including Vincent (1986–1987, based on the life of Vincent van Gogh), Aleksis Kivi (1995–1996) and Rasputin (2001–2003). A number of his works have parts for magnetic tape, including Cantus Arcticus (1972, also known as Concerto for Birds & Orchestra) for taped bird song and orchestra, and True and False Unicorn (1971, second version 1974, revised 2001–02), the final version of which is for three reciters, choir, orchestra and tape.

His latest works include orchestral works Book of Visions (2003–2005), Manhattan Trilogy (2003–2005) and Before the Icons (2005) which is an expanded version of his early piano work Icons. In 2005 he finished a work for violin and piano called Lost Landscapes, commissioned by the violinist Midori Goto. A new orchestral work, A Tapestry of Life, was premiered by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in April 2008, directed by Pietari Inkinen.

Many of Rautavaara's works have been recorded, with a performance of his 7th symphony, Angel of Light (1995), by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leif Segerstam on the Ondine label, being a particular critical and popular success - it was nominated for several awards, including a Grammy. Rautavaara's Symphony No. 8 has, so far, been recorded 4 times, certainly rare in contemporary classical music. Almost all of Rautavaara's works have been recorded by Ondine. Some of his major works have also been recorded by Naxos.

Rautavaara has recently completed a percussion concerto (subtitled Incantations) for Colin Currie and his second cello concerto (for Truls Mork). He is currently working on a large-scale opera based on texts by Federico García Lorca.

Some links with Rautavaara's work:



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