About this Recording
8.554292 - RAUTAVAARA: Piano Works
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Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928)
Works for Piano

Einojuhani Rautavaara is one of the most colourful and diverse figures in Finnish music. He is an artist of exceptionally broad scope, at once Romantic and intellectual, mysticist and constructivist. He has gone through a great many stages in his stylistic development, yet he has combined different stylistic elements in post-modernist fashion within individual works. Rautavaara began his career under the influence of post-war Neo-Classicism; in the 1950s, he began to apply twelve-tone procedures and progressed in some works to quite a modernist idiom. On the other hand, even works written close to each other in time could differ widely in their approach; for instance, in his Third Symphony, written in the middle of his twelve-tone period, he gave free rein to the luscious romantic emotion that came to dominate his music from the late 1960s onwards. Since the late 1970s, he has been creating a synthesis of various stylistic influences. Rautavaara's extensive and versatile output contains several operas, seven symphonies, other orchestral works, concertos, chamber music, piano music and vocal music. Rautavaara has been a major Finnish composer since the 1950s, and has been steadily gaining in international esteem, especially in the 1990s.

Kimmo Korhonen

Etydit (‘Etudes’), written in 1969, dates from a time when a sparse, aphoristic style was the mainstream approach in writing piano music. I therefore wanted to reintroduce a sonorous, broad piano style using the entire compass of the keyboard, presenting this wonderful instrument in its full abundance. Each étude focuses on a particular interval. Brilliant thirds, restless sevenths, anguished tritons, natural fourths, expressive seconds and airy fifths have a sketch each to themselves. Ikonit (‘Icons’) was written in 1955. Legend has it that the apostle St Luke painted the first image of the Mother of God and thus created the first icon. The Mother of God remains the most common subject for icon painters, apart from scenes from the Gospels and holy men and women. From century to century and millennium to millennium, icons have retained the same subjects and style, petrified, static and Oriental. Icon painters generally remain anonymous. Ikonit is a further manifestation or re-painting, this time in music. The first image is Jumalanäidin kuolema (‘Dormition of the Madonna’). The Mother of the Son of Man lies upon a bed of purple, surrounded by the exalted circle of apostles. Here, they are no longer fishermen or carpenters, but princes of the Church whose robes sparkle with heavy decorations in jewels and gold. A genuinely Byzantine scene, heavily barbaric and decadent, with colours echoing the solemn clamour of thousands of bells. Kaksi maalaispyhimystä (‘Two Country Saints’) is from the door of an ancient iconostasis. In a simple village church somewhere, these two saints, at once solemn and joyous, have watched village girls in their scarves, and bearded peasants. Blackened by candle-smoke and scarred by human history, Blakernajan musta Jumalanäiti (‘The Black Madonna of Blakernaya’) carries her child in a round medallion on her breast. Her rigid features recall those of the priestesses of late antiquity. The enormous black eyes seek out the visitor in every corner of the church, through candle-smoke and incense. No ray of mercy or gentleness is to be found in them; they have seen too much and have become fixed in their black background. Kristuksen kaste (‘The Baptism of Christ’) is painted in blue-green, gold and red. The river seems to flow directly from above with the regularity of a braid; in the middle stands Christ, a gaunt and naked ascetic, with St John the Baptist, standing on the shore, dressed in animal hides, extending his hand to anoint the Chosen One. These figures stand in a landscape that could hardly be more abstract: the water, land and mountains are merely a symbolic backdrop. In Pyhät naiset haudalla (‘The Holy Women at the Tomb’), the holy women, like ewes, wait in the cool night for the Lamb to rise and for the bridegroom to fulfil the promise of his blood. This is their last moment to think of and know Him in his humanity. They let the death-­bell toll quietly, as their thoughts soar in a gentle melody. In Arkkienkeli Mikael kukistaa Antikristuksen (‘The Archangel Michael Vanquishes the Antichrist’), unfailingly in his serenity and moving at great speed, the Archangel Michael rides his red-winged steed over the hairy and ugly Enemy. His right hand threatens the Antichrist with a spear while also swinging a censer, his left hand raises the Book of Books, his lips blow the trumpet of the Last Judgement and his wings, also red, rise boldly from his shoulders. His calm young face, however, seems to impose a solid and overwhelming peace on the movement.

I wrote the Seitsemän Preludia Pianolle (‘Seven Preludes for Piano’) when I was studying in Tanglewood in summer 1956. I studied with Aaron Copland, but I never showed him the Preludes, which were a sort of protest or outburst against the so-called neo-classical confines under which I had to labour while studying both in Helsinki and in the United States. The Preludes are powerfully inspired, expressive ideas, 'preludes' in the actual sense of the word, compositions featuring a single texture.

The first sketches for the minor set of variations, Partita, were written in New York in 1956. I was working on a composition for a guitarist, and there are still traces of guitar texture detectable in the piano work, for instance in the accompanying chords of the second movement. The guitar piece was never completed, but two years later I fashioned the material into a partita for piano. This work has three movements of differing character, variations on the same motif.

The sub-title of Piano Sonata No. 1, "Christus und die Fischer", composed in 1969, came from an old German print that hung on the wall above my piano at my summer villa on the Baltic Sea when I was writing the work. Perhaps the devout atmosphere of the print and the sound of the sea translated into the heavy rhythm of the opening. The rapid middle movement focuses on rhythm, particularly various combinations of 3/8 and 2/8, creating a restless and passionate mood. The slow, contrapuntal texture of the final movement, weaving around a chorale-like theme, is in sharp contrast to the preceding movement.

Like many of my works, Piano Sonata No. 2, "The Fire Sermon", written in 1970 derived its musical energy from its sub-title; the magic words 'The Fire Sermon' stuck in my mind, repeating themselves like a mantra. There is no conscious link, however, with T.S. Eliot's poem of the same name or Buddha's famous sermon. All three movements observe the principle of continuous growth and the initial idea grows in extent, density and strength until the texture cracks (often into clusters), becomes dissonant, dissolves into a fog of sound or, as in the concluding fugue, goes overboard from pathos to trivial irony for a fleeting instant. The mysticism and devotion of the First Sonata have here given way to pessimism, to a repeated and frustrating struggle.

Einojuhani Rautavaara 1998
English translations: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, Diana Tullberg

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