The Last Runo

Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928) The Last Runo (2007)

Einojuhani Rautavaara is a Finnish composer who has combined different stylistic elements – at once Romantic, intellectual, and mystic. After graduating  from Helsinki University, he studied at the Sibelius Academy with Aarre Merikanto, then with Vincent Persichetti at the Juilliard School, as well as with Aaron Copland and Roger Sessions at Tanglewood. He was a lecturer at the Sibelius Academy from 1966 to 1971, and then was appointed to the state position of Professor in Arts. Rautavaara’s early pieces drew upon the Nordic classicism of Sibelius and Nielsen, as well as the music of Bartók, Shostakovich and folk-music. His Fourth Symphony (1962) was among the first Finnish works to employ serial techniques, while his recent music has become more tonal and influenced by Orthodox liturgical chants alongside modal and chance-derived elements.

The Last Runo is a work based on the last song of the Kalevala (The land of Kaleva), a 19th-century work of epic poetry compiled by Elias Lönnrot from Finnish and Karelian oral folklore and mythology regarded as Finland’s national epic. It played an important role in the development of the country’s national identity, the intensification of its language strife, and the growing sense of nationality that ultimately led to its independence from Russia in 1917. The most common version of the Kalevala was first published in 1849 and consists of 22,795 verses, divided into fifty songs, or runos. The 50th and last runo is titled Marjatta after the young virgin of Kalevala, and is a retelling of the story of the birth of Christ.

Rautavaara has also written The First Runo, a choral piece that tells the story of the world’s beginning and the Kalevala’s creation myth.