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8.225177 - KUULA / MADETOJA: Finnish Songs
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Toivo Kuula (1883-1918) • Leevi Madetoja (1887-1947)

Toivo Kuula (1883-1918) • Leevi Madetoja (1887-1947)

Finnish Solo Songs


When Toivo Kuula met with a violent death in the aftermath of the Finnish Civil War in May 1918, he became the tragic romantic hero of Finnish music. Born at Vaasa in 1883, he was a pupil of Nováãek, Wegelius and Järnefelt at the Helsinki Music Institute, before further study abroad in Bologna, Leipzig, Paris and, finally in 1911-12, in Berlin. During his years of continuing study he had served as a teacher and conductor in Vaasa, and conducted the orchestra in Oulu. In 1912 he became assistant conductor of the Native Orchestra and from 1916 to 1918 held a similar position with the Helsinki Town Orchestra. His work as a composer was inevitably influenced by Sibelius, drawing in particular on the folk-music of his native region. It is in particular for his songs and vocal writing that he is remembered. Kuula died at the early age of 35, and was a full-blooded national romantic. His music breathes the spirit of his own country, Ostrobothnia.


Kuula left 24 solo songs for voice and piano. Typical features include a strong melodic flow and Slavic pathos. Many songs are in a minor key and a melancholy mood, such as Syystunnelma (Autumn Mood), Vanha syyslaulu (Old Autumn Song), Tuijotin tulehen kauan (Long I stared into the fire) and Suutelo (The Kiss). It would be too simple, however, to claim that Kuula was an ardent hothead whose songs embody the rougher traditions of Ostrobothnia. Alongside local passions, his songs also carry a quite different vein of refined and nuanced sensuality, as in Sinipiika (Blue Maiden), Purjein kuutamolla (Sailing in the Moonlight) or Jääkukkia (Ice Flowers), which comes close to impressionism.


In Kuula’s songs the piano often merely provides an accompaniment. The piano texture has no independence, as in the Central European Lieder tradition. His piano writing is sonorous, with thick chords somewhat reminiscent of Brahms. Another factor linking these two composers is that both wrote numerous folk-song arrangements. The choices of text show his fervent patriotism. Over half of his songs are settings of Eino Leino or V.A. Koskenniemi, great Finnish poets of his time. Many of Kuula’s solo songs were first performed by his wife, Alma Kuula, a singer and a source of inspiration.


Leevi Madetoja, four years younger than Kuula, also hailed from Ostrobothnia, and was born in 1887 in Oulu, where he completed his early studies in 1906. He continued his education at Helsinki University and as a pupil of Sibelius at the Helsinki Music Institute. Further study followed in 1910 with Vincent d’Indy in Paris, and the following year with Robert Fuchs in Vienna, and in Berlin. In 1912 he became conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Society Orchestra, and from 1914 to 1916 of the orchestra in Viipuri, where he also taught at the orchestra school. In 1916 he began a 23-year period on the teaching staff of the Music Institute, and wrote for many years as a music critic for the Helsingin sanomat. He remained a significant figure in national romantic music, after Sibelius, and, like Kuula, drew on Ostrobothnian folk-music, but more influenced by contemporary French music than the older composer.


Madetoja’s sixty-odd songs form a significant contribution to the history of Finnish solo songs. He lacks, however, the powerful, earthy qualities that make Kuula so popular, although his songs contain perhaps more surprises for the listener. His phrases are more complicated than Kuula’s, and their structure is less unambiguous.


His Syksy (Autumn) remained the composer’s last significant song cycle. It was completed in 1930 and consists of settings of poems by the composer’s wife, the poet L. Onerva. The title song, Syksy (Autumn), sets a mood of farewell. Lähtö (The Departure) opens with piano chords recalling the overtures of the operas Pohjalaisia (The Ostrobothnians) and Juha. Luulit ma katselin sua (You thought I was watching you) has a strongly chromatic, restless melody, as does Hyvää yötä (Good Night). Lintu sininen (Blue Bird) is austere in melody but captivatingly intense in its expression. The cycle ends with Ijät hyrskyjä päin (Ever against the Breakers), with its recitatives on a single note.


Risto Nordell

Translation Jaakko Mäntyjärvi / Diana Tullberg

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