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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Obituary: Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016)

The composer of eight symphonies and fourteen concertos was 87.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Composer Einojuhani Rautavaara at his piano.
Photo by Outi Pyhäranta. 
Composer Einojuhani Rautavaara died yesterday. The grand master of Finnish music was 87. His eight symphonies and enormous output of opera, songs and orchestral works broke bold new ground in the 20th and 21st centuries, and his legacy to younger composers can be heard throughout the world's concert halls.

According to a report by the Associated Press, Mr. Rautavaara died in a hospital following complications from an operation. He is survived by his wife and two sons. Early in the 2000s, Mr. Rautavaara had suffered a ruptured aorta, but was eventually able to return to work.

Einojuhani Rautavaara was born in Helsinki, Finland in 1928. He studied music at the Sibelius Academy as a young man before gainin a scholarship to study at the Juilliard School. At Juilliard, his teachers included Vincent Persichetti and Roger Sessions. He also studied at Tanglewood, taking lessons with Aaron Copeland. In 1954, he burst upon the international music scene, winning a competition with his work A Requiem for Our Time.. He never looked back.

Mr. Rautavaara's work continued the development of Finnish music in the years following the "long silence" of composer Jean Sibelius. His early works (such as the Symphony No. 3) included serial ideas but sound more like Bruckner than Boulez. His later tsyle incoprorated electronics, includig the songs of birds against a full orchestra in Cantus Arcticus (1972) a concerto for electronic taped bird calls against a full orchestra.

Listen to the first movement from Einojuhani Rautavaara's Symphony No. 3.

The 1994 Symphony No. 7, recorded by composer-conductor Leif Segerstam with the Helsinki Symphony Orchestra, was nominated for a Grammy award. A mystic work in the mold of Bruckner and Messiaen, it is nicknamed the "Angel of Light." The Eighth (subtitled "The Journey") premiered in 1999 to general critical acclaim. All of his major works have been recorded and are available on the Finnish label Ondine, and his symphonies and concertos have been reissued in separate boxed sets.

His vast catalogue included fourteen concertos, including Cantus Arcticus. His most recent efforts include Incantations for percussionist Colin Currie and the Cello Concerto No. 2 for Truls Mork. He wrote ten operas, including works on Finnish mythology () and biographical operas about Vincent Van Gogh, Rasputin and Finnish writer Aleksis Kivi. When he died, he was working on an eleventh using texts by Federico García Lorca as its libretto.

A teacher at the Sibelius Academy in , Mr. Rautavaara was a mentor to composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, the co-founder of Finland's Ears Open movement with fellow composers Kaija Saariaho and  Magnus Lindberg. The extent of his influence and his music will be felt and heard into this century and hopefully beyond. 
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.