RAUTAVAARA: Piano Works (Laura Mikkola) (Naxos: 8.554292)
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Einojuhani Rautavaara(b. 1928)
Works for Piano
Einojuhani Rautavaara is one of the most colourful and diverse figuresin Finnish music. He is an artist of exceptionally broad scope, at onceRomantic and intellectual, mysticist and constructivist. He has gone through agreat many stages in his stylistic development, yet he has combined differentstylistic elements in post-modernist fashion within individual works.
Rautavaara began his career under the influence of post-war Neo-Classicism; inthe 1950s, he began to apply twelve-tone procedures and progressed in someworks to quite a modernist idiom. On the other hand, even works written closeto each other in time could differ widely in their approach; for instance, inhis Third Symphony, written in the middle of his twelve-tone period, hegave free rein to the luscious romantic emotion that came to dominate his musicfrom the late 1960s onwards. Since the late 1970s, he has been creating asynthesis of various stylistic influences. Rautavaara's extensive and versatileoutput contains several operas, seven symphonies, other orchestral works,concertos, chamber music, piano music and vocal music. Rautavaara has been amajor Finnish composer since the 1950s, and has been steadily gaining ininternational esteem, especially in the 1990s.
Etydit ('Etudes'), written in 1969, dates from a time when a sparse, aphoristicstyle was the mainstream approach in writing piano music. I therefore wanted toreintroduce a sonorous, broad piano style using the entire compass of thekeyboard, presenting this wonderful instrument in its full abundance. Each etudefocuses on a particular interval. Brilliant thirds, restless sevenths,anguished tritons, natural fourths, expressive seconds and airy fifths have asketch each to themselves. Ikonit ('Icons') was written in 1955. Legendhas it that the apostle St Luke painted the first image of the Mother of Godand thus created the first icon. The Mother of God remains the most commonsubject for icon painters, apart from scenes from the Gospels and holy men andwomen. From century to century and millennium to millennium, icons haveretained the same subjects and style, petrified, static and Oriental. Iconpainters generally remain anonymous. Ikonit is a further manifestationor re-painting, this time in music. The first image is Jumalanaidin kuolema ('Dormitionof 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 longerfishermen or carpenters, but princes of the Church whose robes sparkle withheavy decorations in jewels and gold. A genuinely Byzantine scene, heavilybarbaric and decadent, with colours echoing the solemn clamour of thousands ofbells. Kaksi maalaispyhimysta ('Two Country Saints') is from the door ofan ancient iconostasis. In a simple village church somewhere, these two saints,at once solemn and joyous, have watched village girls in their scarves, andbearded peasants. Blackened by candle-smoke and scarred by human history, Blakernajanmusta Jumalanaiti ('The Black Madonna of Blakernaya') carries her child ina round medallion on her breast. Her rigid features recall those of thepriestesses of late antiquity. The enormous black eyes seek out the visitor inevery corner of the church, through candle-smoke and incense. No ray of mercyor gentleness is to be found in them; they have seen too much and have becomefixed in their black background. Kristuksen kaste ('The Baptism ofChrist') is painted in blue-green, gold and red. The river seems to flowdirectly from above with the regularity of a braid; in the middle standsChrist, a gaunt and naked ascetic, with St John the Baptist, standing on theshore, dressed in animal hides, extending his hand to anoint the Chosen One.
These figures stand in a landscape that could hardly be more abstract: thewater, land and mountains are merely a symbolic backdrop. In Pyhat naisethaudalla ('The Holy Women at the Tomb'), the holy women, like ewes, wait inthe cool night for the Lamb to rise and for the bridegroom to fulfil thepromise of his blood. This is their last moment to think of and know Him in hishumanity. They let the death-?¡bell toll quietly, as their thoughts soar in agentle melody. In Arkkienkeli Mikael kukistaa Antikristuksen ('TheArchangel Michael Vanquishes the Antichrist'), unfailingly in his serenity andmoving at great speed, the Archangel Michael rides his red-winged steed overthe hairy and ugly Enemy. His right hand threatens the Antichrist with a spearwhile also swinging a censer, his left hand raises the Book of Books, his lipsblow the trumpet of the Last Judgement and his wings, also red, rise boldlyfrom his shoulders. His calm young face, however, seems to impose a solid andoverwhelming peace on the movement.
I wrote the Seitseman Preludia Pianolle ('Seven Preludes forPiano') when I was studying in Tanglewood in summer 1956. I studied with AaronCopland, but I never showed him the Preludes, which were a sort ofprotest or outburst against the so-called neo-classical confines under which Ihad to labour while studying both in Helsinki and in the United States. The Preludesare powerfully inspired, expressive ideas, 'preludes' in the actual senseof the word, compositions featuring a single texture.
The first sketches for the minor set of variations, Partita, werewritten 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, forinstance in the accompanying chords of the second movement. The guitar piecewas never completed, but two years later I fashioned the material into apartita 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 dieFischer", composed in 1969, came from an old German print that hung onthe wall above my piano at my summer villa on the Baltic Sea when I was writingthe work. Perhaps the devout atmosphere of the print and the sound of the seatranslated into the heavy rhythm of the opening. The rapid middle movementfocuses on rhythm, particularly various combinations of 3/8 and 2/8, creating arestless and passionate mood. The slow, contrapuntal texture of the finalmovement, weaving around a chorale-like theme, is in sharp contrast to thepreceding movement.
Like many of my works, Piano Sonata No. 2, "The FireSermon", written in 1970 derived its musical energy from itssub-title; the magic words 'The Fire Sermon' stuck in my mind, repeatingthemselves 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 movementsobserve the principle of continuous growth and the initial idea grows inextent, density and strength until the texture cracks (often into clusters),becomes dissonant, dissolves into a fog of sound or, as in the concludingfugue, goes overboard from pathos to trivial irony for a fleeting instant. Themysticism and devotion of the First Sonata have here given way topessimism, to a repeated and frustrating struggle.
Einojuhani Rautavaara 1998
English translations: Jaakko Mantyjarvi, Diana Tullberg