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Toivo KUULA (1883-1918)
Finnish Songs

Syystunnelma (Autumn Mood), Tuijotin tulehen kauan (Long stared I into the Fire), Aamulaulu (Morning song), Kesäyö kirkomaalla (Summer Night in the Churchyard), Epilogi, Suutelo(the Kiss), Marjatan Laulu (Marhatta’s Song), Sinikan Laulu (Sinika’s Song), Sinipiika (Blue Maiden), Lauanta-Ilta (Saturday Evening), Jääkukkia (Ice Flowers), Vanha Syyslaulu (Old Autumn Song), Yö nummella (Night on the Moor), Tule Armaani (Comer, my Sweetheart), Inamdran Laulau (Imandra’s Song),Purjein kuutamolla (Sailing in the Moonlight).

Leevi MADETOJA (1887-1947)
Syksy-Sarja (Autumn Song Cycle)

Syksy (Autumn), Lähtö (The Departure), Luulit, ma katselin sua (You thought I was watching you), Hyvää yötä ( Good Night), Lintu sininen (Bluebird), Ijät hyrskyjä päin (Ever against the Breakers)

Kirsi Tiihonen, (soprano), Satu Salminen (piano).
Recorded Järvenpää Hall, Järvenpää , Finland, 25-27 August 1996. DDD
MARCO POLO 8.225177 [74.11]

 

Soon after Finnish Independence was won, Toivo Kuula was murdered by a drunken soldier. The brightest new hope of Finnish music was silenced at the age of only thirty four. Though his output was small, it was original: most of it is in current Finnish repertoire though tracking recordings down is no easy task, as it is spread over many different releases. Thus it is a delight to find sixteen songs together here alongside a less known cycle by Leevi Madetoja, Kuula’s contemporary.

When the youthful Madetoja first set eyes on Kuula, he was impressed by his "air of self-confidence, of triumph about him that obviously reflected a fast-flowing emotional undercurrent - everything about him seemed to say: here is a man who knows what he wants and who has confidence in his own powers!". Kuula’s views on music were liberal and unconventional, and he impressed the leading musicians of his time – Jean Sibelius took him on as one of his few pupils. Madetoja too would later be taught by Sibelius and also create the rich vein that is Finnish music. Fittingly, this recording was made in Järvenpää, where Sibelius lived: Kuula and Madetoja would have known the area, nestled in woods, fronted by lakes.

This recording does not come with a booklet or text, but think of this as a challenge, not a disadvantage. It’s so easy to assume that reading text equates with understanding what’s going on musically and emotionally. One of the reasons I got into Finnish music in the first place was because the unusual language and phrasing meant getting back to basics. It is like having a mental workout, keeping fit on a musical basis. It helps to penetrate the songs on a unique level: even before texts bring out the full meaning. In any case, many songs on this set are available online, though not in translation, on the Lieder and Song Texts Page (www.recmusic.org/lieder). Moreover, the Finnish language is intrinsically beautiful and melodic, and should be savoured for itself. Who could but not luxuriate in lines like:-
"Kaiu, kaiu. Lauluni,
Kaiu korkealle,
Aamu koittaa, aalto kä jo

Rannan radian alle".

(Softly now my morning song soars above the shallows, Day is dawning, waves begin to break beneath the sallows) How drab the English sounds in comparison!

In any case, once you have discovered Finnish song, you could end up buying many other excellent recordings – Isokoski, Mattila, Talvela, Hynninen, Salminen, Suovanen just to name a few. Kirsi Tiihonen, the soprano on this recording is fine and warmly enjoyable, but for true exquisiteness, some of the above are worth listening to.

The early years of the twentieth century were a quantum leap of creativity in Finland. In part it was based on knowledge of ancient traditions, such as the epic poem the Kalevala, on folk music, and the sense of a unique national heritage. Yet it also grew in an awareness of modern trends in the rest of Europe – romanticism, modernity, individualism. Hence young men like Kuula and Madetoja could access a deep vein of nostalgia for a lost past, while writing music that reflected cosmopolitan European trends in contemporary Vienna or France. Their music evokes a deep love of the natural world and the passing of time, of things eternal and of change: deeply romantic but without maudlin sentimentality or retrogression. They set the poems of contemporary poets, not just those of the past, and many of these, too, wrote in the European mainstream of the time. For example, Eino Leino (1887-1926), a free thinker and believer in free love, who lived a bohemian life in Rome with another equally wild spirit, the poetess L. Onerva – who was later to marry Madetoja. Kuula wrote chamber music and, memorably for choir, a great Finnish phenomenon, but was particularly drawn to song during his marriage to the soprano, Alma Silvantionen, with whom he toured Europe..

This fascinating conjunction of nostalgia and forward-thinking provides us with some beautifully evocative mood music. Autumn Moods, pictures the coming of winter – long and hard in Finland – is based on a Leino poem. The poet spies a small flower by the roadside, which he protects by burying it under snow, like the memory of a lost love which must not wither. "Long gazed I into the Fire" was an early student work of Kuula’s. The composer Armas Järnefelt, Sibelius’s brother-in-law, and Head of the Music Academy, was seen playing it admiringly. "This Kuula", he said "is some fellow!" How beautifully the piano evokes the dying embers of a fire and the poets increasing anxiety as he "sees" a maiden in the flames. The title alone of "Summer Night in the churchyard" to a poem by another contemporary, Vieko Koskanniemi, evokes the romantic mystery in the song. The same poet’s Epilogi refers to life sleeping hidden "in the womb of night" – the delicate piano setting expresses implicitly more than the poem alone can say. "Ice Flowers", another Koskanniemi poem is a challenge for a good soprano – its exoticism is so highly perfumed that "the flower without any fragrance" is created by music alone. "Old Autumn Song" is underpinned by such a tender, gentle piano that the theme of seasons changing and perennial hope can be vividly imagined. "Sailing in the Moonlight" exquisitely evokes twinkling stars, and the rippling of waters lit by moonbeams – and then the voice comes in with rhythm, and voice and piano continue together in a surprisingly impressionist manner that makes one wonder what Kuula might have achieved had fate not intervened.

Leevi Madetoja may seem to get short shrift here, with only six songs, but he too is a composer who understood and composed much art song. Because he lived so much longer than poor Kuula, he was able to develop more expansively, writing opera and symphonic works. Like Kuula, he came from a humble rural background which he celebrated in his opera The Ostrobothnians, and later the Kalevala-inspired Juha. He was deeply immersed in the folk genre, and uniquely among composers, was a virtuoso on the traditional string instrument the kantele. Nonetheless, his music reflects the European mainstream: he was deeply influenced by Debussy. Here we have the "Autumn Song Cycle" to poems by his wife L. Onerva, the progressive poet, set by many different composers. The deep currents in the piano part set off the free-flowing voice part, creating a mysterious, intriguing whole. Madetoja’s music is quite distinctive – darker than Kuula’s but striking and strong. The songs in this cycle develop as a unit, musically, but the third song "You thought I was watching you" is in a class of its own, ravishing, sensual and exotic, yet also modern sounding. Madetoja has been honoured by Ondine Records, who are issuing his complete works for male and female voice, accompanied by Gustav Djupsjöbacka, the writer, pianist and song specialist.

This present recording is very worthwhile, both for those new to Finnish song and to those already exploring it. Originally it was to be issued at a budget price by Naxos but this issue is on the slightly more expensive Marco Polo affiliate. One hopes that more Finnish song might be on the way, and other music by Finnish composers.

Anne Ozorio




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