Einojuhani Rautavaara: Ballad for Harp and Strings

composer bio

“If an artist is not a modernist when he is young, he has no heart. And if he is a modernist when he is old, he has no brain.” —Einojuhani Rautavaara

Rautavaara is Finland’s most widely heard and praised composer since Jean Sibelius. He came to music slowly and indirectly. “When I was a small boy,” he has written, “with no personal contact with music as yet, I painted ‘music’ on paper with watercolors and put these paintings on display as ‘compositions.’” He began piano lessons at the late age of 17, then studied musicology at the University of Helsinki, and composition at the Sibelius Academy with Aarre Merikanto.

In 1955, to honor Sibelius’s ninetieth birthday, the Koussevitzky Foundation of Boston offered a scholarship that would enable a young Finnish composer to study in the United States for two years. Sibelius himself chose Rautavaara. The young Finn consequently received instruction from Vincent Persichetti at the Juilliard School, and from Aaron Copland and Roger Sessions at Tanglewood. Further studies followed in Ascona, Switzerland with Wladimir Vogel and in Cologne, Germany with Rudolf Petzold. Returning to Finland, Rautavaara held a succession of faculty positions at the Sibelius Academy between 1966 and 1991. Since 1988 he has made his living as a composer in Helsinki, receiving numerous prizes and awards for his music.

Rautavaara has written in a variety of compositional styles. He began with the neo-classical mode of Hindemith and Stravinsky, before turning to the 12-tone serialism of Schoenberg, then a romantic approach rooted in the folk-flavored Russian school of Mussorgsky and Borodin.

—Don Anderson