UUNO KLAMI (1900 - 1961)
Uuno Klami belonged to that generation of composers who emerged in the 1920s, shortly after Finland had gained her independence, and set about offering a more “European” alternative to the National Romanticism that had hitherto held sway in Finnish music. But while the other prominent Finnish modernists of the 1920s—Ernest Pingoud, Väinö Raitio and Aarre Merikanto—all turned in frustration during the next decade towards a safer and more traditional idiom, Klami reached the height of his creative powers in the 1930s. He succeeded in putting together a harmonious synthesis of Finnish thematic materials and stylistic influences from abroad.
It is something of a mystery just how and why Uuno Klami found his way into the world of music. He was born in Virolahti on the shores of the gulf of Finland, close to the present border with Russia, and neither his immediate family nor his childhood surroundings offered much in the way of musical stimuli. On the other hand, he did develop a love of the sea from an early age, and this is reflected and expressed in his orchestral suite Sea Pictures. Klami’s path to become an artist was not made any easier by the loss of his father at the age of three and his mother when he was sixteen. Nevertheless, he knew what he wanted, and already in elementary school he announced his intention of becoming a composer. He left school at fifteen and studied on three separate occasions between 1915 and 1924 at the Helsinki College of Music, now the Sibelius Academy. The breaks in his education there were not through any shortage of talent, but a simple lack of funds.
While he was still a student in the early 1920s, Klami aroused attention with his natural leaning for things international and cosmopolitan. In particular he felt drawn to French music, and after completing his studies in Helsinki in the spring of 1924 he set off for a year in Paris, where he met Maurice Ravel and Florent Schmitt among others, and heard a good deal of the new writing of the day. Klami’s final breakthrough to the wider Finnish public came in September 1928 at a Helsinki concert of his works, where the greatest acclaim went to his Karelian Rhapsody, an orchestral piece that covered familiar Finnish material in a quite new fashion. Shortly afterwards, Klami made his second study-trip abroad to Vienna (1928–29).
Above all, Klami was a brilliant manager of the orchestra. His most important models were Ravel and Stravinsky, but he was a broad-minded composer with Catholic tastes, and could as easily cope with stylized Spanish moods or archaic primitivism, even arranging jazz ingredients on occasion. Uuno Klami’s principal works are the colourful orchestral fresco Kalevala Suite (1933–43), the large oratorio Psalmus (1935) for mixed choir, soloist and orchestra, and a ballet Whirls (1957–60), that was left unfinished at his death. He also composed a good deal of other orchestral music, two piano concertos, a violin concerto, and two fine concertante works for cello and orchestra. Klami was elected to the Academy of Finland in 1959 as its composer representative, but he died of heart failure less then two years later in May 1961.
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