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April 22, 1997

Modern Composer

[Music of] Einojuhani Rautavaara. Symphony No. 6 "Vincentiana"; Cello Concerto, Op. 41. Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Max Pommer, conductor, Marko Ylonen, cello. (Ondine CD # ODE 819-2) 1994.

[Music of Einojuhani] Rautavaara. Violin Concerto; Isle of Bliss; Angels and Visitations. Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Leif Segerstam, conductor, Elmar Oliveira, violin. (Ondine CD # ODE 881-2) 1997.

No, this printer is working fine, that is his name. Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928) is not well known in this country, but these two releases from Ondine records may help to change that. Rautavaara was described by one of his countrymen as "a strange fruit of Finnish classical music, [both] musically and personally." For many years he has been writing music "without caring [about] written or unwritten borders of classical music to describe climate, nature, or mythic past" of his native land.

Rautavaara's sixth symphony, on the earlier album, is from 1992 and is based on his 1987 opera "Vincent," on the life of Vincent van Gogh. Although the musical elements of the symphony are closely related to the main themes of the opera, Rautavaara says that he "has shaped out a drama that is purely musical -- it cannot any longer be translated into words." Though the symphony is completely divorced from the plot of the drama, its four sections create musical versions of van Gogh's paintings

The last section of the symphony features a prominent role for synthesizer. "The strange sounds generated by this instrument conjure up the effect that we are hearing music from outside the bounds of our normal' reality," just as looking at some of van Gogh's paintings take us outside our normal reality into new worlds. Alternation of relatively straightforward orchestral passages with other-worldly synthesizer-dominated sections creates an unsettling instability that echoes the instability of the symphony's subject.

Angels and Visitations is featured on the newer album, though it was composed in 1978. The angels that inspired Rautavaara were not literary or religious figures, he says, but "creatures...which could be called angels" from his own experience. He says that as a boy he was repeatedly visited by angels in terrifying dreams: "an enormous, grey, powerful, silent creature would approach me and clasp me in its arms so that I feared its mighty presence would suffocate me." Many years later, he recalled that experience reading Rilke's Duino Elegies: "should one suddenly press me to his heart: I would perish by his more powerful presence.... every angel is terrifying." Angels and Visitations is his working out of the fear and awe he felt for those angels as a child. The work was created, says Rautavaara, to "give expression to powerful, but specifically contradictory associations revealed to the composer."

The single-movement work begins and ends with peaceful, quiet statements, but in between lies "a world of sharp contrasts, in which a hymn rising up from the depths may be followed by what sounds like a riotous pack of demons...." It gives the nominally religious a whole new respect for angels.

You can hear Angels and Visitations by Einojuhani Rautavaara on WHIL-FM (91.3) Thursday, May 1 at 7:30 PM as part of their weekly series of music from after 1950. 19:16 -- J. Green


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