Thursday, 4 August 2016


Cantus Arctics is a remarkable piece of music, integrating the calls of wild birds above the arctic circle into something that both soars in an almost classical romantic Scandinavian sense (think Sibelius) and challenges with its lean modernity. It spins around the listener as birds might, drops hints and moves away, and is totally beguiling.  It was my introduction to Einojuhani Rautavaara, who died last week, and it is a record I have given to many people, not least my late ex-father-in-law, who played horn in the New Zealand national orchestra, and it seems to have captivated them all.

Of course no Finnish composer can avoid comparison to Sibelius, but oddly I see in Rautavaara a strand more like the less romantic challenges in Nielsen, or the much under-appreciated Robert Simpson. Rautavaara studied at Julliard, and while he was there worked with Roger Sessions and Aaron Copland at Tanglewood; you can see a bit of them in his work too, a mixing of romantic and what I saw called post-expressionist. What stands out for me is that he seems to use the different forms as an extension of their content--the ones that seem to fit.

I'd recommend the sweeping brilliance of his 7th Symphony, Angel Of Light, the 3rd Piano Concerto (Gift of Dreams), and if you want to feel his roots, the 3rd Symphony (which he called his Bruckner work). What Rautavaara shows is what I like to think of as the best of post-modernism, a much maligned and much mis-used term, in that his work delves deeply into the possibilities of the tools with which he works, but never loses touch with the impulses that drive us to express our deepest selves in music.  It is both challenging and accessible, appealling to both the mind and the heart. What more can we ask of art?

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