Einojuhani and Sini Rautavaara, 2011. Photo Ari Korkala/Music Finland.
The news about the passing away of the great Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara a few days ago quickly circulated throughout the musical world, yet it was also received as a surprise. That is, we had already started to consider him an ‘omnitemporal’ person who permanently existed in Katajanokka, Helsinki, but had had time to have many phases and successes in his long life. His departure feels almost the same as Jean Sibelius’s, as Rob Weinberg already stated.
Everyone may now remember the Rautavaara whom one was able to know during his life span. Although rather few met him directly any longer in the last years, memories of him live on.
First, many had him as a teacher at the Sibelius Academy even before he was named professor of composition in 1976. Ten years earlier, he was already a celebrity and had received the Wihuri Prize (the same as awarded earlier to a.o. Stravinsky, Shostakovitch and Messiaen). He was my examiner for my music theory exam. He sat at the piano and played a diminished seventh chord in a certain position. “What is this?” he asked. I recognized it: the opening of the finale of Beethoven’s Appassionata. “Great, you have been accepted.”
Later, Rautavaara classified teachers into the following categories: the famous, the nice and the schoolmasters. He himself belonged to the second category, the nice, and thanks to this, a certain kind of pluralism emerged in the music pedagogy of Finland as its main ideological principle. When I defended my thesis on Myth and Music in 1978, I met him at Finlandia Hall, where he said that he understood my topics. After I had become professor at the University of Helsinki, he came to my reception with his young wife Sini. The problem was that Sini had to get a master’s degree in musicology by studying Einojuhani’s music. My colleague Erkki Salmenhaara said that a composer’s spouse cannot study her husband’s music in a sufficiently objective manner. I disagreed, but then things went in another way.
At that time Rautavaara had already entered his opera period. We were able to be present at the premieres of numerous operas: Thomas, Vincent, Aleksis Kivi, Rasputin, The House of the Sun. In many of them the central roles had been written particularly for such singers as Jorma Hynninen and Sini. These operas formed a brilliant series of Finnish stage music, which received high international acclaim. Fortunately, we published from Rautavaara a diary of the creation of Vincent in the magazine Synteesi (for research in the interrelationships of arts) in a thematic issue on Suomalainen ooppera (Finnish Opera, 3/1987). It opens the door on the composer’s creative process in that period.
I notice that I have compared Rautavaara to Stravinsky in many of my earlier essays, with the Europeanity, the Finnishness, the Russianness and the Americanity as the background. He is of the nomadic composer type (also in the sense defined by Daniel Charles). Even the fact that the name of the young Rautavaara was connected via Olga Koussevitsky to Russo-American circles and hence, via Serge Koussevitzky, also to Sibelius – when considering Rautavaara’s A Requiem in our Time – provides him with a mythical glamour. Cantus arcticus made him a pioneer of zoomusicology in the line of Messiaen – François-Bernard Mâche.
But all these phases were preceded by dodecaphonics, as a result of which many intendents of orchestras started at one point to consider him the composer who emptied concert halls. Yet, an academic dissertation appeared to defend even this direction: the doctoral thesis of Anne Sivuoja-Gunaratnam at the University of Helsinki in 1997, which considered this phase even in the light of semiotics. It is quite crucial and conducive to elevating a composer’s profile when theses about the composer are published. Also, another doctoral thesis appeared about Rautavaara, the one by the Pole Wojciech Stępień at the University of Helsinki in 2010 on the ‘angels’ in Rautavaara’s output. The work was later reprinted by the American publisher Ashgate and achieved international fame.
Rautavaara had entered his ‘angel’ period, which may, after all, have been neither spiritually nor technically so far afield from the Icons, composed long before during his time in New York; behind this piano suite we can note his teacher Vincent Persichetti’s diagrams of modes. They were also used by Eila Tarasti in her study on the Icons; in addition, she pondered Rautavaara as a synaesthete. This analysis has appeared in Synteesi but also in English many times, in, for instance, the anthology Musical Semiotics in Growth (1997) (this article will soon appear online on the pages of amfion.fi).
The new meditative angel style expressed Rautavaara’s transcendental world view (see Tarasti 2013: 310 for Rautavaara’s position in the paradigm of musical world views of such composers as Sibelius, Mahler, Kalevi Aho, Erik Bergman, Erkki Salmenhaara, Magnus Lindberg, Harri Vuori).
The titles of his symphonies like Angel of Light and Angel of Dusk reflect this style period. In this manner the angel appears in the first mentioned symphony: “The radiance of light is emphasized by being juxtaposed with an equally strong darkening effect. In the third movement of Angel of Light a dark and somber motif ascends against a thick texture of strings in the upper register, as if rising from the depths of the orchestra” (Tarasti 2012: 325). I recall vividly that passage when Mikko Franck conducted the symphony at St. John’s Church in Helsinki. Furthermore, another conductor, David Pickett, commissioned and conducted one of Rautavaara’s symphonies with the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra in Indiana.
Angel of Dusk, a double bass concerto, was performed in turn by the Music Society of the University of Helsinki in a concert at the Solemnity Hall in 2003. As we could not get a full symphony orchestra, a version of the work for two pianos was performed, with Marja Rumpunen and Juha Ojala as skilful pianists. Our young friend, the Polish virtuoso Janusz Widzyk from the Berliner Philharmoniker, played as a double bass soloist. After the music, there was a dialogue with the composer in the darkened hall, the participants in armchairs, illuminated only by a big standing lamp to create the atmosphere. Thankfully, all this was recorded on video (the tape resides in the archives of the Department of Musicology at the University of Helsinki).
Another time I was able to arrange a Rautavaara event in the summer congress of the ISI (International Semiotics Institute) in Imatra, Eastern Finland. This took place in the famous Church of the Three Crosses designed by Alvar Aalto, a place of pilgrimage for all architects, in 1999. The composer himself provided accompaniment when Sini performed his Lorca songs. Eila Tarasti played the Icons. The conductor Kalervo Kulmala conducted the Academic Wind Orchestra, which played A Requiem in our Time. Then Markku Heikinheimo played on organ the concerto Annunciations. This became an impressive and memorable evening for semioticians and the rest of the audience.
But even before that event, we had heard that concerto in Minneapolis in St. Paul’s huge Cathedral as a part of a festival dedicated to Rautavaara. It lasted one week in the late winter of 1998 and was funded by the millionaire Aina Swan Cutler. I have commented on this week and Rautavaara’s speeches there in my diary Minnesota 1999 (see Tarasti 2004, but also the magazine Rondo; this report will likewise appear on the pages of amfion.fi).
I was in collaboration with Rautavaara in those years when he still taught at the Sibelius Academy, in, for example, the lecture series on contemporary music, which he chaired. He also visited my Department. Rautavaara’s speeches about music were always incredibly witty, showing a remarkable erudition. He belongs to those writing composers in the line of Wagner, Busoni or Stravinsky. He had always something humorous and unusual but also profound to say. He argued, for instance, about Madetoja, Melartin, Kuula and others that in international comparison they fall in the same category as Sibelius but remain overshadowed by him. He related that he saw the opera Jephta’s Daughter by Väinö Raitio at the Finnish National Opera as a young man but remembered only one line: “Here we have the moon lights/but I have pain in limbs” (an untranslatable pun in Finnish: Täällä loistaa kuun valo/mutta minulla on luuvalo). When he once heard at our home the song Rise, Be Shining (Nouse, ole kirkas) by Helvi Leiviskä, the Finnish woman symphonist, he said: That is unbelievably heavy, to force the singer to rise from the depths in that manner.
Rautavaara was a very well-liked social personality; many were able to experience this. I remember when he moved to Brändö in Helsinki, close to our home, to the home of Armi Klemetti, widow of the famous choirmaster Heikki Klemetti, and Rautavaara changed the interior completely since he did not like any traditional furniture. He attended receptions organized by the Music Society of the University of Helsinki in such places as the Embassy of Japan due to the Japanese Music Week we had arranged. He was a central figure in the legendary dinner at the home of Einari (Kurre) Marvia and Liisa Aroheimo-Marvia in 2003, with his cousins, the soprano Aulikki Rautavaara and Gunnel. He had much to tell about his famous singer cousin, an opera star favoured by Richard Strauss and also a film star in Germany in the 1930s. This party was to remain her last. I also remember Einojuhani and Sini at a dinner at our home in Laajasalo on a bitingly cold winter day, together with the Marvias and professor Matti Klinge and his wife Marketta, when we spoke about European music and its values.
So we have to take farewell from one phase in Finnish music history and, above all, from a person whose impact was so overwhelming and whom we recall with emotion as a charming, intellectual and sensitive man. In all that he composed, wrote or spoke, his identity, his ‘Moi’, and his style were present. Their radiance will not fade in our minds.
— Eero Tarasti
Einojuhani Rautavaara 1987. “Työpäiväkirja (Diary) V/86 – V/87”, Synteesi 3/87: 2-9.
Anne Sivuoja-Gunaratnam 1997. Narrating with twelve tones : Einojuhani Rautavaara’s first serial period (ca. 1957-1965). Helsinki: Suomalainen tiedeakatemia. Suomalaisen tiedeakatemian toimituksia. Humaniora; vol. 287.
Wojciech Stępień 2010. Signifying angels : analyses and interpretations of Rautavaara’s instrumental compositions Helsinki: University of Helsinki, Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies ([Tallinn] : printed in Tallinna Raamatutrükikoda, ). Studia musicologica Universitatis Helsingiensis; vol. 20.
Eero Tarasti 2004. “Minnesota 1999”, Pariisin uudet mysteerit ja muita matkakertomuksia. Imatran Kansainvälisen Semiotiikka-Instituutin julkaisuja nr.2. pp. 75-123.
Eero Tarasti 2012. Semiotics of Classical Music. How Mozart, Brahms and Wagner Talk To Us. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.