Toivo Kuula (1883-1918) Leevi Madetoja (1887-1947)
Finnish Solo Songs
When Toivo Kuula met with a violent death in the aftermathof the Finnish Civil War in May 1918, he became the tragic romantic hero ofFinnish music. Born at Vaasa in 1883, he was a pupil of Nova?úek, Wegelius andJarnefelt at the Helsinki Music Institute, before further study abroad inBologna, Leipzig, Paris and, finally in 1911-12, in Berlin. During his years ofcontinuing study he had served as a teacher and conductor in Vaasa, andconducted the orchestra in Oulu. In 1912 he became assistant conductor of theNative Orchestra and from 1916 to 1918 held a similar position with theHelsinki Town Orchestra. His work as a composer was inevitably influenced bySibelius, drawing in particular on the folk-music of his native region. It isin particular for his songs and vocal writing that he is remembered. Kuula diedat the early age of 35, and was a full-blooded national romantic. His musicbreathes the spirit of his own country, Ostrobothnia.
Kuula left 24 solo songs for voice and piano. Typicalfeatures include a strong melodic flow and Slavic pathos. Many songs are in aminor key and a melancholy mood, such as Syystunnelma (Autumn Mood), Vanhasyyslaulu (Old Autumn Song), Tuijotin tulehen kauan (Long I stared into thefire) and Suutelo (The Kiss). It would be too simple, however, to claim thatKuula was an ardent hothead whose songs embody the rougher traditions ofOstrobothnia. Alongside local passions, his songs also carry a quite differentvein of refined and nuanced sensuality, as in Sinipiika (Blue Maiden), Purjeinkuutamolla (Sailing in the Moonlight) or Jaakukkia (Ice Flowers), which comesclose to impressionism.
In Kuula's songs the piano often merely provides anaccompaniment. The piano texture has no independence, as in the CentralEuropean Lieder tradition. His piano writing is sonorous, with thick chordssomewhat reminiscent of Brahms. Another factor linking these two composers isthat both wrote numerous folk-song arrangements. The choices of text show hisfervent 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 werefirst performed by his wife, Alma Kuula, a singer and a source of inspiration.
Leevi Madetoja, four years younger than Kuula, also hailedfrom Ostrobothnia, and was born in 1887 in Oulu, where he completed his earlystudies in 1906. He continued his education at Helsinki University and as apupil of Sibelius at the Helsinki Music Institute. Further study followed in1910 with Vincent d'Indy in Paris, and the following year with Robert Fuchs inVienna, and in Berlin. In 1912 he became conductor of the Helsinki PhilharmonicSociety Orchestra, and from 1914 to 1916 of the orchestra in Viipuri, where healso taught at the orchestra school. In 1916 he began a 23-year period on theteaching staff of the Music Institute, and wrote for many years as a musiccritic for the Helsingin sanomat. He remained a significant figure in nationalromantic music, after Sibelius, and, like Kuula, drew on Ostrobothnianfolk-music, but more influenced by contemporary French music than the oldercomposer.
Madetoja's sixty-odd songs form a significant contributionto the history of Finnish solo songs. He lacks, however, the powerful, earthyqualities that make Kuula so popular, although his songs contain perhaps moresurprises for the listener. His phrases are more complicated than Kuula's, andtheir structure is less unambiguous.
His Syksy (Autumn) remained the composer's last significantsong cycle. It was completed in 1930 and consists of settings of poems by thecomposer's wife, the poet L. Onerva. The title song, Syksy (Autumn), sets amood of farewell. Lahto (The Departure) opens with piano chords recalling theovertures of the operas Pohjalaisia (The Ostrobothnians) and Juha. Luulit makatselin sua (You thought I was watching you) has a strongly chromatic,restless melody, as does Hyvaa yota (Good Night). Lintu sininen (Blue Bird) isaustere in melody but captivatingly intense in its expression. The cycle endswith Ijat hyrskyja pain (Ever against the Breakers), with its recitatives on asingle note.
Translation Jaakko Mantyjarvi / Diana Tullberg