Einojuhani Rautavaara “mastered almost every compositional style of the 20th century,” the Finnish conductor Hannu Lintu writes. Perhaps for that reason, he is often grouped with other European mavericks outside the serialist tradition, such as Arvo Pärt and Henryk Górecki. He is also an indispensable figure in Finnish music history. In October, Lintu will be performing with the St. Louis Symphony (October 14-16), the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (October 21-23), and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (October 29-30). Rautavaara’s work is threaded through the programming on tour and this playlist. “I’ve been amazed at how everything in the musical history of my country is connected,” Lintu writes, “and how Finnish music of all times has had the need to reflect nature.”

Hannu Lintu • Photo Veikko Kähkönen
Hannu Lintu • Photo Veikko Kähkönen

Einojuhani Rautavaara – “Cantus Arcticus” Op. 61, II. Melankolia; Hannu Lintu (Conductor), Royal Scottish National Orchestra

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Einojuhani Rautavaara, the godfather of Finnish music and musicians, passed away in July 2016. He was a wise man, a mystic. He often said he spoke to the angels and that his inspiration came from another world. “Cantus Arcticus” is a “Concerto for Birds and Orchestra,” and its third movement is entitled “Swans Migrating”; they fly over the landscape of Lapland.This is the first piece I ever conducted and recorded with an orchestra.

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Jean Sibelius – “The Swan of Tuonela”; Paavo Järvi (Conductor), Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra

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In 1955, Jean Sibelius recommended Rautavaara for a scholarship, and with this financial help Rautavaara studied in Tanglewood with Vincent Persichetti and Aaron Copland. Sibelius’s “The Swan of Tuonela” is another great Finnish swan portrait and there’s something similar in the way Rautavaara and his mentor have used solemnly proceeding, radiating harmonies.

Sibelius – Symphony No. 5, III. Finale; Leonard Bernstein (Conductor), London Symphony Orchestra (1966)

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Actually, there’s a piece by Sibelius which could also be called “Swans Migrating”: the Finale of the Fifth Symphony. In April 1915, 16 swans flew over Sibelius’s house, Ainola. “The most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen,” he wrote in his diary. The sight and the sounds of these swans are present in the second theme of this movement. For me, Sibelius symphonies are a source of constant inspiration and I have developed a strange habit: I always listen only to the ones I’m not working on at the moment. So now, while reading the score of the Second Symphony for the concerts with the Detroit Symphony, I’ve been listening to the Fifth!

Einojuhani Rautavaara – “Requiem in our Time” III. Hymnus; Jorma Panula (Conductor), Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra

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Back to Rautavaara. This is how he sounded in 1954, before his studies in the U.S. “Requiem in our Time” was his first big success. It’s a piece composed for wind orchestra (an exceptional choice for a requiem) in Neoclassical style. Wind ensemble is not one of my favorite combinations but this is a piece I listen to very often.

Aarre Merikanto – “Ekho”; Anu Komsi (Soprano), Petri Sakari (Conductor), Turku Philharmonic Orchestra

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Although Sibelius was an important figure for Rautavaara, his real professor of composition at the Sibelius Academy was Aarre Merikanto, a neglected Finnish modernist. There was a group of young composers in the 1920s who tried to create something international and radical out of the nationalistic shadow of Sibelius, and Merikanto was one of them. However, he and his contemporaries were ridiculed by musicians and critics alike, silenced one by one or forced to change their styles. This is “Ekho” (1922), a piece for soprano and orchestra by Merikanto, another Finnish piece inspired by nature.

Einojuhani Rautavaara – Symphony No. 3, I. Tranquillo; Hannu Linto (Conductor), Royal Scottish National Orchestra

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As a result of his studies with Merikanto, Rautavaara changed style and his Third Symphony (1960) is a magnificent combination of serial procedures and harmonic landscapes. A sort of twelve-tone Bruckner!

Jaakko Kuusisto – Violin Concerto; Elina Vähälä (Violin), Jaakko Kuusisto (Conductor), Lahti Symphony Orchestra


Coincidentally, another pupil of Aarre Merikanto was Ilkka Kuusisto. Ilkka has two sons, Jaakko and Pekka. Pekka Kuusisto is a wizard violinist; in December we’ll be touring Northern Finland together, playing small towns and villages which no symphony orchestra has ever visited before. His brother Jaakko is a composer, who wrote this Violin Concerto in 2012.

Magnus Lindberg – Violin Concerto No. 1; Pekka Kuusisto (Violin and Conductor), Tapiola Sinfonietta

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Rautavaara himself became the professor at the Sibelius Academy in 1976 and some of his pupils are now among the most successful Finnish composers: Kalevi Aho, Magnus Lindberg, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Olli Mustonen. When I asked Lindberg if he’d like to write a new orchestral piece for Finnish centennial celebrations next year, he promised to compose a new “Finlandia”! In preparation, I’ve been studying his Violin Concerto No. 2, which I’ll also be recording in 2017.

Einojuhani Rautavaara – Symphony No. 7, III. Come un sogno; Leif Segerstam (Conductor), Helsinki Philharmonic

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Finally, the Symphony No. 7 “Angel of Light” (1994) by Rautavaara, the most profound of his angel pieces. To me, “Angel of Light” is one of the most significant symphonies of the 20th century. It’s very rare for a composer to be loved and respected by musicians, colleagues, audiences, and critics alike. Rautavaara was certainly one of those people. ¶

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